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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/30/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 31
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://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/translate. This amazingly useful tool does translations between English and any one of French, Spanish, Portugese, or German. They're not great translations, they're not very literary translations, but they are sufficient to convey the meaning fairly well. (I tried it on the beginning of Zola's "J'Accuse" and found it useful. I *really* could have used it when I was getting error messages from systems in France, or submissions in french to the newsgroup I moderated.) [-ecl]
Accusations: Remember when they used to say that the American President is the most powerful person in the world? I remember back to those days when he actually was. I guess he is not any more. At least I overheard a conversation today in which a woman was saying she really felt betrayed by Clinton. I am now hearing calls to impeach him. All this and there is no credible evidence of any wrong- doing. So far there is no real evidence against him. There is only an accusation. No, I guess that is not even accurate. At this writing there is an accusation that there is an accusation. There is a potential accusation. It is the test of twenty hours of illegally obtained tapes of private conversation, and very likely a tall tale. But then I guess the impeachment is still in the potential phase also.
But I guess the important question is whether he is guilty. No, let's be more precise. The question is whether he is effectively guilty and the answer is a resounding "yes." What does "effectively guilty" mean? Well, let me give you an example. Would you vote for William Kennedy Smith for President? I have heard that in a poll most people who remembered his name said that they would not. Wasn't he involved in a rape case? Yup, he sure was. He was accused of rape, in fact. It went to trial and was found innocent. The law said he did not do it. In fact, here is a real trivia question for you, who was his accuser? I bet you don't know. I know I don't know. That is because if you bring a charge of rape you can legally choose without revealing your name to the public. Alan Dershowitz points out in an editorial that in France if you make a false accusation you are given the punishment that the accusee would have gotten, but in the United States the only option is countersuit. No countersuit is going to clear William Kennedy Smith's name. I don't know if William Kennedy Smith even had political aspirations, but if he is as innocent as he has been found to be in a court of law, the power of sexual accusation has legally destroyed any political career he might have had. It may be for very good reason that the law has been set up this way, but it certainly seems like the net result has some problems. In spite of legal innocence, William Kennedy Smith has effectively been found guilty. Neither he nor Clinton can ever really clear his name. Once the accusation has made, it is effectively true.
But even though the President is effectively guilty by accusation, do I think the actual misconduct really took place? I have no idea, myself. The question I ask myself is whether it is probable that a President in office--someone fairly intelligent--who is already accused of sexual misconduct would have so little self- control? There are those who would like to believe that men are not responsible for their actions when it comes to the opposite sex. It has about as much validity as accusations of PMS behavior. But I can tell you that I myself have been told that I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to sex. As this point anybody who knows me just swallowed their bubble gum. It sure makes me sound like I have a more interesting past than I remember. Anyway, I was told it by a woman who knew absolutely nothing about me or my behavior; she made the judgment strictly based on the fact that I was a male. And I expect for her there would be little that plausibility arguments would accomplish. The woman who said it is convinced that all men are out to abuse all women, and one can never prove that assertion false. For my part I am going to wait for some hard evidence before I draw any conclusions. After all this is the President who has had two or three new accusations a week and still nothing has been proven. That means either he is in league with the Devil or he is just plain milquetoast innocent. But in either case next month he will be accused of having sex with someone like Tawana Brawley.
But now what is the next move for the woman in question? Regardless of the truth she has two options. She can tell the American public that that it was all just a romantic fantasy. Nobody will ever trust her again. Her career will be ruined. She may even feel that she has discredited her whole gender in politics. And people across the country will assume that she has been bought off and really has had an affair with the President. Or she can present herself as a 90s professional woman who like many another has had an indescretion with the boss. She might even give it the spin of striking a blow against imposed, paternalistic mores. I bet you a nickel I know which she'll do. [-mrl]
John Updike: This week John Updike final novel in his five-installment novel. The title is RABBIT IS HASEN PFEFFER. [-mrl]
Top Ten Films of 1997 (film commentary by Mark R. Leeper):
The following is the list of the ten films that I enjoyed most over the year. I have to admit living in the wilds of New Jersey I have not been as active as I might have been in seeking out more obscure films that might have been more qualified. This was a year in which the multiplexes around me seemed particularly preoccupied with getting films that had large explosions. In addition there are films that will come to my area in the next few weeks that might have made it onto my list. With that in mind, here are the ten best of what I saw this year.
1. L. A. CONFIDENTIAL: This is a dense, complex, multi-layered crime story that may just be one of the best films of its kind ever made. Great dialogue, very good plot, great characters, good musical score, great photography. This is one of the most engaging film script we have seen in a while. This is a film to rank with THE MALTESE FALCON and CHINATOWN among the best of the crime. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), high +3 (-4 to +4)
2. THE ICE STORM: Ang Lee adapts the novel by Rick Moody. Two neighboring families, each in its own way dysfunctional, are the study of this film set over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973. Both families seem obsessed with sex, but different people use it in different ways and react differently. Lee very finely defines his characters and the film adds up to a powerful experience. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)
3. CONTACT: The first contact with an alien race has a huge impact on society. We see that impact through the eyes of one woman who devoted her life to the search for extraterrestrial life. The film adaptation of Carl Sagan's CONTACT is in some ways a betrayal of Sagan's philosophy and has some hefty revisions to the book. Knowing that I would like to down-rate CONTACT, but I have to admit what remains is a substantial and intelligent film. CONTACT was produced by Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan, and that may be why so much of the film was on-track. While not perfect, it is the best science fiction film we have gotten in a good long time. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
4. THE SWEET HEREAFTER: An opportunistic lawyer comes to a rural Canadian town in which a school bus accident has killed many of the town's children. With a smooth sincere-sounding line he turns grief into anger in the hopes of building a class action lawsuit. Atom Egoyan's non-linear telling gets in the way a little, but this is a powerful statement about the law and about grief. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
5. ROSEWOOD: This is a powerful historical account with an epic feel made on a subject that has never been adequately covered by film. This story of a race massacre in 1923 Florida is intelligent and exciting, a difficult mix. Stylistically similar to MATEWAN and perhaps even better, John Singleton's film changes the truth a little, but brings a an important incident in American race relations to audiences who would not know about it otherwise. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
6. AMISTAD: Steven Spielberg's account of the slave mutiny of 1839 and its legal aftermath is certainly a good historical film, filled with facts and historical details. Occasionally it is actually powerful. But it lacks some of the emotional impact of THE COLOR PURPLE and SCHINDLER'S LIST and its pacing is off. Still, it is a useful and engaging source of historical perspective. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
7. EVITA: The on-again, off-again history of attempts to bring this Webber and Rice musical to the screen finally culminates in a spectacular film starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. By now the music is mostly familiar. The politics are superficially explained, but the visuals give the film a great epic feel. It is hard to imagine Madonna will ever have as powerful a role or be as good in another film. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
8. EVE'S BAYOU: A ten-year-old Creole girl grows up during one hot Louisiana summer. Director and writer Kasi Lemmons draws some very nicely defined characters for whom the viewer has real interest and empathy. One of the most touching and engrossing films of the year. It is also very well photographed with some very memorable images. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
9. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE: 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)
10. CHASING AMY: A pair of 20-something buddies who co-author a comic book are split over one's interest in a gay woman. Kevin Smith takes what could have been rather trivial and self-important material handles it with a light touch, making a film that is both engagingly serious and genuinely funny. Fans of Kevin Smith will not be surprised that the film is also at times fairly raunchy. The frank and often sexual dialog is realistic, but will be a turnoff to some. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
Three Books by Russell Hoban: THE MOMENT UNDER THE MOMENT, Jonathan Cape, ISBN 0-224-03314-X, 1992, 260pp, L14.99; THE SECOND MRS. KONG, Universal Edition, ISBN 0-900938-75-7, 1994, 35pp, no price indicated; THE LAST OF THE WALLENDAS AND OTHER POEMS, Hodder Children's Books, ISBN 0-340-66766-4, 1997, 80pp, L10.99 (book reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper):
By looking at the header you can see my user interface doesn't even provide me with a way to type the British "pound sterling" symbol (or is it sterling still), so why, one might ask, am I reviewing books priced in them?
Welcome to the world of global commerce.
The fact is that books published anywhere are pretty much available anywhere (assuming censors aren't busy opening packages). In the last month, I've ordered books from three continents, including a British book from Australia and a Czech book, written in English, from a bookseller in the Netherlands. So it is actually possible for you to get these books, even if you live in a keyboard-deprived country.
Aside Number 1: Why do I find myself ordering Britisher Stephen Fry's book from Australia, while the only place to get Aussie Greg Egan's new work is Britain?
Aside Number 2: My palmtop, on which I write this, does actually have international currency symbols. Unfortunately, I can't upload it to my mainframe and have it work.
THE MOMENT UNDER THE MOMENT
This collection of eight stories, fourteen essays, and a libretto is a must for any Hoban fan. For one thing, it's the only time I've seen his non-fiction available anywhere. The best piece to start with is probably "The Bear in Max Ernst's Bedroom or The Magic Wallet," the keynote address for the Sixth Annual Literary Conference of the Manitoba Writers' Guild in 1987. In this Hoban talks about fiction and reality, and writing and risk. Other essays relate Hoban's early life--his background, what he read, what he thought about what he read, and how all that shaped him into what he is today. One or two have implied prerequisites; for example, his introduction to HOUSEHOLD STORIES by the Brothers Grimm would have meant more to me if I had read the stories, but my childhood was squandered on Jules Verne and Franz Werfel (don't ask). But even here, I found something remarkable: Hoban quotes Goya as saying, "The dream of Reason produces monsters" (Los Caprichos, Plate 43 in my edition, though it is noted that it may have been intended as the frontispiece, and may appear as such elsewhere). Hoban then disagrees, saying, "I think it's when reason is *not* allowed to dream that it acts out its dreams while awake, and then it is that monsters are produced." But what Goya said in Spanish is actually ambiguous: "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos" can also mean "The *sleep* of reason produces monsters." In fact, Goya elaborates on the caption by saying, "La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos impossibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas" ("Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of arts and the origin of their marvels"). So Goya actually agrees with Hoban: reason must unite with dream; one cannot eliminate the other.
The libretto, "Some Episodes in the History of Miranda and Callisto" reminded me very much of a performance of Risako Ataka's "Tempest" sponsored by the Performance Exchange at the 1995 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Maybe it was that the latter had a single actor playing many roles, and Hoban's work, while not quite that sparse, does have each actor in his time playing many parts.
The stories have a range of styles, though certain ideas do recur. Sphinxes and lions seem particularly common, as well as general references to mythology and that other realm which can be called mystical or fantastical or spiritual, depending on your conception.
THE SECOND MRS. KONG
This opera has been set to music by Harrison Birtwhistle, but I haven't heard it. (I know it exists, because an AltaVista search turns up four references to the opera in various university music department libraries.)
The cast includes "Kong (the idea of him)" and "Death of Kong" (two separate characters), Vermeer and his Girl with a Pearl Earring, Orpheus and Eurydice, Anubis, and "Madame Lena, the customary sphinx." Hoban certainly has a thing about sphinxes.
THE LAST OF THE WALLENDAS
This is an interesting experiment. Many of the poems are suitable for children, but some are clearly more aimed at adults. Now "by suitable for children" I do not mean that it is in whatever sanitized, dull state the MPAA in the United States seems to mean in its strange, unfathomable rating scheme, but rather that a child can appreciate it. "The Plughole Dragon," for example, has a basic meter and rhyme that a child can follow, and a straightforward method of expression ("Down the plughole winking, blinking,/No one knows what he is thinking./No one knows why he should be/living there so blinking free."). At the other end of the spectrum if "K219," about the death of Sergei Preminin, and if the introduction to it doesn't give you nightmares, nothing will.
I don't know if the name "Crystal Maze" is a reference to the television show of the same name or just coincidence, but I am reasonably sure that there are echoes of "Albert and the Lion" in its content. (I assume the show is British, though we watched it while traveling in India. "Albert and the Lion" is probably best known in its Stanley Holloway rendition.)
I believe that THE MOMENT UNDER THE MOMENT may be out of print, but www.bibliofind.com occasionally has copies. THE LAST OF THE WALLENDAS should be orderable from a British bookseller. As for THE SECOND MRS. KONG, you could try contacting the publisher directly. [-ecl]
ARGUING THE WORLD: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The American socialist movement is traced following the trajectories of four Jewish intellectuals who were friends at CCNY in 1937. Each went in a different direction after leaving school, but each continued the tradition of argument. This is not so much a biographies showing how different events let them to different political conclusions. The biographies are mixed with archive films covering half a century. The film is good at what it does, but it really should have given us a better idea of what constituted each man's philosophy and why he believed what he did. ARGUING THE WORLD barely gets beyond the superficial. The film is strong on its explanation of history but weak on philosophy. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 5 positive, 0 negative, 2 mixed
ARGUING THE WORLD is a chronicle of political thought in the United States from the late 1930s though the 1980s. More precisely it is a study of four 20th Century political philosophers--Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe, and Irving Kristol--who began their careers in political philosophy as friends at CCNY, the City College of New York, in 1937. They all came from similar backgrounds. They lived in New York City where the sidewalks were often decorated with political street speakers, and even before college each was immersed in political thought. One tells how his sister would take him to see Clifford Odets plays, another how in front of his home were two buildings, the synagogue and the Young People's Socialist League. Born into poverty, all four turned to Marxism as the hope for the poor of the world. This was a time when the revolution in Russia was fresh and new. Many Americans, from a distance of thousands of miles, thought that Communism was in the process of saving the Soviet Union. Take four young radical thinkers, already drunk with politics, and send them to CCNY and what develops is just what one would expect. CCNY was then one of the radical campuses of the day. It was boiling over with excited political debate. As writer/director Joseph Dorman seems to imply, the teachers were mediocre, but the best education was to be had in the cafeteria where there were constant agitated debates. The room had a series of alcoves and different groups chose specific alcoves as their turf. Alcove One was where the pro-Trotsky students congregated. Alcove Two was where the pro-Stalin students gathered. (One wonders what became of them.) Another alcove would be the ROTC candidates. These four Jewish intellectuals were Alcove One regulars.
ARGUING THE WORLD traces the four through the war years with two going into the military. With the conquest of Nazism it seemed that the world was ready for the Socialist ideal. However, their view of Stalin and of Communism changed with the Moscow trials and the purges and executions of military leaders. They started founding and/or writing for magazines like "The Partisan Review" and "Commentary." Irving Kristol started having a significantly different view from the others during the McCarthy anti-Communist Movement. While he did not think much of Joseph McCarthy as a person, he defended McCarthyism.
What has been a minor irritation with the film to this point becomes more obvious and at the same time more serious. One would not write a biography of Charles Darwin without a detailed explanation of evolution. Dorman does not seem prepared to actually present the beliefs of his four subjects in any great detail. While the four substantially agreed, it would have been useful to be told the substance of their beliefs, but it was not important to understanding their history. But at this point, when they start to diverge in opinion it becomes frustrating just to be told that Kristol agreed with McCarthy's goals and Howe did not. These are deep and complex men with complex ways of thinking, and to reduce their thought to so superficial a level is a disappointment for the viewer. Dorman wants to tell us about the four men but not bother to tell us really who they are. We want to know Kristol's reasoning that led to his agreement with McCarthy. We want to know the reasoning the others had for their different viewpoints.
There is a further dividing of the ways in the 60s protest movements and particularly in the relationship with the Students for a Democratic Society. The SDS was the self-styled successor of the previous generation's intellectual movement. But the four saw the SDS as naive and utopian. Instead of endorsing the SDS, each found himself disagreeing with the SDS and Tom Hayden, the leader of the SDS, attributed this to stodginess and de facto conservatism.
There was further divergence of opinion based on experience of the late 60s student protest movements. Nathan Glazer by this point was a professor at Berkeley where the students were able very much to disrupt the academic environment with impunity. Glazer was called upon to negotiate and in the process lost most of his respect for the protesters. His views became more conservative as a result, though not so far to the right as Kristol's. Daniel Bell was at Columbia where the protests were put down with more force by the police and came out of the experience more left-wing than before.
Dorman recreates the period with archival footage showing New York and California at the time of the events, but what is on the screen frequently is just a scene without much obvious relevance to what is being said. There are also interviews with various political figures who interacted with the four political thinkers. The film is entertaining and enlightening, but it leaves one wanting to be in on a discussion among the men to find out what the real differences in their opinions and reasoning styles were. Without that there is something dramatically missing from the film. I rate ARGUING THE WORLD 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:
It is necessary for me to establish a winner image. Therefore, I have to beat somebody. -- Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994)