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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/13/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 33
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: I don't mean to be an alarmist about the Y2K problem. I don't know if I am over-rating it or under-rating it. But if you would like to read a really believable scenario of the future history of the next three years (with particular emphasis on electric utilities, which will be a central dependency), take a look at http://www.euy2k.com/history.htm
It is still science fiction but it is very possible. In fact projections of this sort of thing may be one of the most important functions of science fiction. [-mrl]
A Crooked House: There is a new game where I work. It seems we have built a crooked house. I don't know if you have read Robert Heinlein's classic story "And He Built a Crooked House." Heinlein had seen a mathematical curiosity. Somewhere he had seen a discussion of how we make models of higher-dimensional cubes to understand what things look like in those dimensions. If you take a piece of graph paper and draw a cross that has a vertical staff that is four squares and a horizontal bar that is three squares wide, you can cut it out and fold it into a cube so that each square becomes a face. Actually there are a lot of different ways you can draw an unfolded cube, but I am sure some Christian scientist--literally in this case--preferred the cross.
The cross was a three-dimensional figure unfolded, but it could be laid flat in two-dimensions. Well, similarly you can take eight cubes and make an unfolded four-dimensional cube. You stack four of the cubes int a vertical pile four cubes high, then you glue the four remaining cubes on each of the four exposed faces of the second cube from the top. That is an unfolded four-dimensional cube. Some of you may remember seeing a Salvador Dali paining of a Christ on this sort of a cross.
In the Heinlein story somebody builds a house like an unfolded four-dimensional cube and in a disastrous earthquake it folds itself into a four-dimensional cube. (The name given to a four- dimensional cube is a "tesseract.") In any case the inhabitants find themselves in a house where nothing makes sense. It has just eight cubical rooms, but here is no way out and the rules of logic no longer apply in the ways one expects. You basically could do little to use logic to plot a path through the house, you just had to memorize a sequence of rooms to get around.
But the point is that you really do not have to invoke the fourth dimension to build a building where the rules of logic as you have known them break down. You can do it in three dimensions. What Heinlein had forgotten is that the lay-out of most houses is not in three dimensions but is a sequence of floors that are two- dimensional. You have minor concessions to the fact you are in three dimensions, namely stairs and elevators. But you can build a building that breaks those rules. And we at Middletown have done that. We have built a parking garage. Normally this would be really good news because of all the winter days you have to go out and scrape ice off of your car. Of course, this is the year that the Woolly Bear caterpillars grew little sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts.
In the new garage there are not flat floors but mostly ramps between floors. And halfway up there is a covered walkway into the building. People want to park near to the covered walkway so they have less walking to do. So now you have a maze and a destination. You even have a reward if you can get to the destination.
But the normal rules don't apply. If you go around in a circle, you are on a different level. And if you are not careful how you choose your circle, you could be two levels up and have missed your target point. So here we have all these Bell Labs scientists trying to figure out the shortest path to get to the walkway. And, of course, being Bell Labs scientists, many have great theories with just a minor flaw. You see them wandering down the garage stairwell with these bewildered expressions on their faces and you know they are saying to themselves "if I had just turned right instead of left at the second level ..."
THE MOON MAID AND OTHER FANTASTIC ADVENTURES by R. Garcia y Robertson (Golden Gryphon, ISBN 0-9655901-8-6, 1998, 275pp, US$22.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Garcia y Robertson writes novelettes rather than short stories, so this collection (the second publication of Golden Gryphon) contains eight stories rather than the usual eleven to fourteen. Most of his stories can best be described as science fantasy rather than science fiction, which does point to a narrower target audience.
The first story, "Gypsy Trade," used a standard science fiction device, time travel, but overlays it with gypsy curses and tarot cards and "Four Kings and an Ace," set in Nineteenth Century San Francisco, also uses forms of magic. On the other hand, "Cast on a Distant Shore" is strictly science fiction, with humans on an alien world hired by other aliens to collect zoological specimens.
The remaining stories ("The Moon Maid," "Gone to Glory," "The Wagon God's Wife," "The Other Magpie," and "The Werewolves of Luna") are fantasy in varying degrees: prehistoric fantasy, science fantasy, and so on.
On the plus side, Garcia y Robertson has a good grasp of characters. He seems particularly able to write female characters--reading his stories, I kept thinking that they were written by a woman. (I have no idea precisely what I mean by that. But if Robert Silverberg could say that he found Tiptree's writing "ineluctably masculine," I figure I can get away with this.)
This collection suffers from the fact that all its stories have appeared in either ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION or THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. Readers who like this type of fiction, or Garcia y Robertson in particular may well have all the stories in magazine form. On the other hand, for readers who don't subscribe to one or both of those, but who enjoy this subgenre, this would be an excellent collection. And both this and Golden Gryphon's previous volume, TO THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR by John Kessel, would make good gifts to your friends who read novels but haven't discovered the joys of short fiction. [-ecl]
MAKING HISTORY by Stephen Fry (Arrow, ISBN 0-09-946481-0, 1997, 553pp, A$14.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This book will be printed in the United States, but I was ordering something else from Australia anyway, so I figured I wouldn't wait. I'm glad I didn't.
At first it seemed fairly standard stuff--hero uses time machine (of sorts) to eliminate Hitler. It's been done before, with varying results, but all pretty much of the "no-World-War-II-or- the-Holocaust" sort, and whether or not paradise results, the result is usually arguably better than our timeline in which 54,000,000 people died as a result of World War II.
Fry takes a different approach. His main character, Michael Young, meets Leo Zuckermann, whose father was at Auschwitz, and as a result Zuckermann wants to eliminate Hitler. Because the only time travel capability Zuckermann can invent is the ability to send small packages back in time, they come up with a fairly interesting (though very heavily telegraphed) method of accomplishing that. After Michael Young sends his parcel back through time, he suddenly finds himself somewhere else. He's not in Cambridge, he's in Princeton. And though he's the same person, somehow he's different--or at least the person he is in this world is different. And this world is *not* better. How Fry manages to do all this and make this a humorous novel as well is a feat in itself.
Fry does a good job of showing Young trying to cope in a world with which he is unfamiliar. Unlike the all-too-usual hero who immediately figures everything out, Young makes mistakes. In fact, he makes a mistake practically every time he opens his mouth. He does eventually resort to that tried-and-true approach, finding history books in the library to explain everything to him, and of course to us as a side-effect.
One of the things that Fry does is to make it clear that he thinks our world is pretty good. At one point Young tells another character, "I haven't told you about Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch and fundamentalists and infant crack addicts with Uzis. I haven't told you about lottery scratchcards and mad cow disease and LARRY KING LIVE," to which the other character replies, "You told me about political correctness and gay quarters in towns and rock and roll and Clinton Eastwood movies and kids not having to call their dads "sir" but saying "motherfucker" and "no way, dude" and chilling off in Ecstasy dance clubs. I want some of that. I want to be cool. ... I want to wear weird clothes and grow my hair long without being fined by the college or having a fight with my parents. If you want to do that here, you live in a ghetto and the police round you up and harassle you. ... Give me a chance to use these words and live this life." How you feel about the book may depend on how you feel about this philosophy.
MAKING HISTORY is a good blend of alternate history and British humor that I would recommend to fans of either. [-ecl]
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: GREAT EXPECTATIONS is an updating of the Charles Dickens classic novel of vindictiveness and gratitude and of pride and shame. This adaptation is much telescoped down from the original novel, though perhaps that is not such a bad thing. Director Alfonso Cuaron's version offers us a very stylish look and a bravura performance from Anne Bancroft. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 4 positive, 9 negative, 7 mixed
In 1948 when David Lean made his classic version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, films were different. While one cannot say that even he was able to get most of the book on the screen, his version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS was certainly more complete than the current one. However, priorities are different these days. The new version of the Dickens story has more style and less substance. Not that the Lean version did not have some pretty terrific photography, particularly in the early, frightening scenes of the film. But the new version probably still wins for style. Unfortunately, the story is also a great deal simplified for this updating.
Finn Bell (Jeremy James Kissner as a boy and Ethan Hawk as a man) is ten years old and living on the Florida Gulf Coast. His hobby is drawing, for which he seems to have a great talent. He is an orphan in the care of his sister and her live-in boy friend (Chris Cooper). Two strange events happen to him in a short space of time that will greatly affect him in later life. First Finn saves the life of an escaped convict, Lustig (Robert De Niro). And he is invited for a weekly visit to a decaying old mansion (the Ca d'Zan on Sarasota Bay) of a mad old woman Nora Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft) and her beautiful niece Estella (Raquel Beaudene as a child, Gwyneth Paltrow as a woman). For years the weekly visits continue. Then just when a romance seems ready to bloom between Finn and Estella they find themselves torn apart and Finn does not see Estella for seven more years. When he does he finds he was almost better off not finding her.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS offers a memorable male and a memorable female performance, but it is a pity they did not come from the two lead actors. Anne Bancroft as the updated Miss Havisham, perhaps exaggerated by in Finn's memories is enjoyably over-ripe as she tries to relive over and over her few happy moments. Robert De Niro is the soul of ferocity as Lustig, certainly when we first see him. He carries over a bit of his performance from CAPE FEAR. Unfortunately, Hawke and Paltrow are inexperienced and convey little emotion. Undeniably Paltrow is enjoyable to look at on the screen but she has no chemistry with anybody. Perhaps it can be forgiven since her character is intended to be a little more than mechanical and less emotional. And Hawke too could use some passion in his role as he has some big surprises come his way. His manner is almost as indifferent to Paltrow as hers is to him. Direction is by Mexican Alfonso Cuaron who previously did A LITTLE PRINCESS. Either he has a marvelous visual sense or Production Designer Tony Burrough does. In any case the film looks better than it plays with a marvelous use of dark sets or scenes of high contrast between dark and light. And usually the camera angle. And setting the tone for the film throughout is the artwork of Francesco Clemente. While he might not have been a touch of which Charles Dickens would have approved, his main character Pip was involved with business and not art, the film is a veritable gallery of Clemente's style. Even the end-titles are punctuated with his paintings.
The plot is somewhat stripped down from the Dickens novel, but what is left is complex compared to most modern films. For what is left of the plot and the marvelous look I rate GREAT EXPECTATIONS a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
One side comment: Robert De Niro seems to be making a habit of sneaking up on people in the most difficult ways. In MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN we have Victor Frankenstein standing in the middle of a snowy field and somehow De Niro's Creature manages to sneak up on him. In this film Finn walks down a beach, sees something orange in the water, investigates and it De Niro under water holding his breath who springs out to grab him. The man would have to have cast iron lungs. Now I suppose there is something of an out from the screenwriter in that he says that this is the way Finn remembered events, not the way they happened. But one has to trust what is on the screen as being at least possible or there is nor reason to be interested in Finn's account. It is scenes like these that ruin the internal logic of films. [-mrl]
BOOGIE NIGHTS: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The ups and downs of the pornographic film industry in the 70s and early 80s come to the screen as we follow one porno super-star and his director. The film is witty, intelligent, and occasionally a little raunchy, but always fun to watch. This is a film with several eccentric characterizations and is a sort of HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD for the porno film industry. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4) There are some light spoilers in this review.
New York Critics: 14 positive, 3 negative, 5 mixed
There certainly is nothing unusual in a film about a rise to fame and a fall of some entertainment sensation. In the field of popular music there is THE ROSE, IDOLMAKER, THE COMMITMENTS and THAT THING YOU DO. Another rise and fall film might be KNIGHTRIDERS, a personal favorite. If you want to stretch a point CITIZEN KANE is about the same theme. What is unusual is to see a good film set in the world of pornographic films.
Jack Horner (played by Burt Reynolds) is a super-mellow director of pornographic films, but he has a dream. He no longer wants to make just good pornographic films, he wants to make good films that also happen to be pornographic. His dream is a continuing series with James Bond-like plots framing his usual show-everything explicit sex scenes. He wants his audiences to want to know how things come out, not just to see what things come out. But it is tough to be experimental in a medium with such a high budget. As Horner puts it, "Before you turn around, you've spent maybe twenty, twenty- five, thirty thousand dollars on a movie." And Horner has a new star for his series. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a bus boy at a San Fernando Valley night club. Eddie's home life is a mess and he is looking for an excuse to leave. Horner sees something in Eddie that could make him a sex-film star. When things get bad enough at home Eddie agrees to make one film for Jack.
At Jack's insistence he chooses a new name for himself and Dirk Diggler sounds "sharp" to him. But this is not just an invitation to a one-time job. It is an adoption into something between a repertory company and a family, a tightly knit group who make Horner's low budget films. In fact, one of several running gags in the film is that it is always the same faces showing up in the films, only in different parts. Among the regulars are Rollergirl (Heather Graham) who never removes her roller-skates, even when making love. In spite of her silly-looking persona she demands to be taken on her own terms, especially by her lovers. William Macy plays Little Bill whose wife's cheating on him is about as subtle as a billboard on Broadway. Perhaps the most normal of the crew is Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) who is acting in pornography only long enough to earn enough to open a hi-fi store and whose country- western persona seems out of place for an Afro-American. If the company is a family, the father is Horner and it has porno star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) as the nurturing mother. Then funding the who operation is The Colonel (Robert Ridgely) who produces and likes what he produces. The general format of the film is sort of a rise and fall as Horner pulls his dream all together, but has problems keeping it all together in the face of monstrous egos, the changing market, and the easy availability of cocaine. The film's longest segment takes place in 1977, then has shorter and shorter pieces showing how the group fares as the years go by.
The best performance is certainly the super-mellow Burt Reynolds who is trying hard to hold on to what pretensions his group has. Julianne Moore is certainly a scene stealer, sustaining the group in a motherly way, but unable to get custody of her own child because of her business. Bill Macy, who has become familiar in mostly unsavory roles manages to generate real pathos in what is basically a comic situation-a wife who cares so little for her husband that she is willing to have sex on a driveway with a crowd standing around and watching.
BOOGIE NIGHTS creates a very plausible look at a moment in the history of the pornographic film when it looked like it might get some respectability from the mainstream. I give it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer. -- Frank Zappa (1940 - Dec 4, 1993)