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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/27/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 35
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.execpc.com/~talossa/patsilor.html. The Micro-Nations Page--you thought only science fiction writers thought this stuff up? [-ecl]
Physics: I was talking last time about how there a certain charisma to Physics that you just don't find with Botany or the other science. Physics became the dominant showy science probably with the creation of nuclear weapons. Physicists proved themselves to be dangerous to ignore and since then they have eaten big holes out of other sciences, claiming them for Physics. People have the feeling that understanding Physics is in some sense understanding the universe. This is not an unalloyed joy for physicists, I am sure. Physics has become trendy. You have these books like THE DANCING WU LI MASTERS in which Gary Zukav claims that ancient mystics really understood principles about the universe that are borne out by modern research. This has about as much truth as saying that Nostradamus could see the future. Both are a sort of Rorschach test. Can you see laws of modern physics in the words of the mystics?
There are people who think they understand physics who really don't. People find all sorts of philosophical meanings to the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. Now, if my understanding is correct--and I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong--this says that you cannot measure both the position and the momentum of an electron. It really is saying that the universe puts physical limits on measurability. But pop physics puts wholly another interpretation on the theory. It says that you cannot observe something without affecting it. If you see a bird flying above you, you affect the bird just by seeing it. I claim this is superstition, people. Yet it shows up in all sorts of arguments as if it were physical law. Anthropologists like to cite it to say that they cannot study peoples without affecting them. That may be true, but don't blame Physics. It is one thing to say that observers very often do affect the subjects they observe. But to promote that principle to a physical law is unwarranted. Why do I say this? Let's try a thought experiment.
In 1604 such notables of science as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton observed and made records of a very bright light in the sky--in fact a supernova. I cannot claim to know a lot about the star that went nova. I would be willing to bet it was not at walking distance away. It had to be at the very least dozens of light-years away, perhaps hundreds or even thousands. That means that it took a good long time for the light of the supernova to reach Earth. Yet it remained bright for only a span of a few days. This means that this particular ball of gas was out of business as a star probably long, long before Kepler was born. So ... if the popular interpretation of Heisenberg were correct it would seem to indicate that Kepler was somehow able to reach into the past and affect a star that didn't even exist in his lifetime. Sorry, I do not buy that. I think that Mr. Kepler could have stared at Mr. Nova until he was blue in the face and his eyes bugged out and it would not have mattered one tiny iota to Mr. Nova. Mr. Nova was long gone.
Now it may be that one cannot illuminate the un-illuminated object without affecting that object, but that sounds almost like a tautology. If objects are going to throw off photons with information about the objects, then intercepting those photons will allow one to observe the object without affecting it. [-mrl]
SPHERE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: SPHERE starts out exciting, turns into an intriguing puzzle, then degrades to a haunted house horror film, and finally it is all pulled together with an overly-familiar idea. SPHERE is faithful to a fairly mediocre novel that fails to grab the viewer. It is over-powered with a more distinguished cast than it really needs, but somehow the actors never bring the story to life. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: (2 positive, 12 negative, 2 mixed)
Michael Crichton has had a long career of writing novels, many of which are science fiction. The most profitable film adaptation of any novel was an adaptation of a Michael Crichton science fiction novel. So in the logic of the film industry a good way to make a profitable film would be to make a big-budget adaptation of another Crichton science fiction novel. CONGO failed, and I am afraid that SPHERE is probably not going to fare a whole lot better. It a little better than just okay novel and it makes a film that is not even that good. The film is expensive, over one hundred million dollars; is long, 133 minutes; has a terrific cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharon Stone; but has little that is really original and less that is exciting.
Several years ago Dr. Norman Goodman (played by Dustin Hoffman) was asked to write up a set of procedures for the government to follow if an alien entity was actually encountered. The plan he wrote was only semi-serious, but did explicitly define a team of experts who should investigate the alien. Now that team has been assembled by a mysterious team leader named Barnes (Peter Coyote) to study a spacecraft almost a half mile in length that apparently dropped into the Pacific Ocean in the early 1700s. Suddenly Norman's less than serious procedure has become an action plan for dealing with a real alien spacecraft. Included in the team to investigate are mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), biologist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), and astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber). Together they travel to the deep Pacific spaceship to understand its secrets. One major secret is the meaning of the huge sphere of gold-toned liquid metal at the heart of this spaceship.
What is disappointing about this film is that it does not have really effective performances. Director Barry Levinson is at his best with good actors rather than good special effects. The problem here is he is making a big-budget science fiction film. It has some effects, but the most intriguing effect he shows only as an outline on a radar screen. The technique is to suggest rather than to show and let the actors and the viewer's imagination carry the film as Robert Wise did with THE HAUNTING. That could be a reasonable approach in a low-budget film. But that requires creating much more atmosphere than Levinson can manage to muster. It requires the actors to give really compelling performances and simply put, they don't. Hoffman's acting seems muted.
Jackson seems too laid back. We do not feel for these characters and do not get inside their heads. Levinson paid big bucks for his actors and does not really get price performance. And why we have Queen Latifah as a minor functionary on the expedition is anybody's guess. A cast of unknowns could have delivered as much emotional impact at a fraction of the price. Look how much more powerful a film like ALIEN was with only moderate actors.
Most science fiction spectaculars these days have second-tier actors and first-tier special effects. Levinson tries second-tier effects, and first-tier actors, but never makes that exchange pay off for the viewer. Perhaps sci-fi spectaculars are just not an actor's medium. The result gets a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE RISE OF ENDYMION by Dan Simmons (Bantam Spectra, 1997, ISBN 0-553-10652-X, 579 pp. Hardcover Science Fiction Book Club Edition) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Every three or four years a book come along that completely knocks my socks off. A few years ago it was Vernor Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP (and to be fair, Connie Willis' DOOMSDAY BOOK did the same thing to me that year--I suppose that's why they split the Hugo Award for Best Novel that year). A few years before that, it was HYPERION by Dan Simmons. Well, Simmons has done it to me again, this time with the completion of the Hyperion saga, THE RISE OF ENDYMION.
This is also a very interesting time of the year in the science fiction field, as the Hugo nominating ballots have arrived in our mailboxes. Also showing up this time of year is the annual LOCUS magazine Recommended Reading list issue. Every year, I open that issue, looking to see how the sf community's opinion of the prior year's work completely differs from my own. Well, this year was no exception, of course, except for Simmons' latest work. I found it commented upon glowingly by most of the columnists, and, in my opinion, with good reason.
When last we left our protagonist, Raul Endymion, he was still in the Schroedinger's Cat Box (picture something completely different than was intended, and you will laugh--but I digress), writing the story of his journeys with Aenea, daughter of Brawne Lamia and the John Keats cybrid, and android A.Bettik. His narrative picks up on old Earth, now located near the Magellanic Clouds (courtesy of the Lions, Tigers, and Bears--but I won't go there--you get to read this book to find out), where she is studying architecture under the tutelate of a Frank Lloyd Wright cybrid. Please, stay with me here. This is only the beginning.
Anyway, our trio leaves Earth for a galaxy-wide excursion to, as Martin Silenus demanded in this book's predecessor, ENDYMION, to topple the Church, destroy the Pax's iron rule, and let him see Earth one more time. Well, there was really more than that. If you remember, the Catholic Church, led by the Pope, who is really Father Lenar Hoyt form the original Hyperion novels, controls the galaxy through the promise of eternal life through the cruciform, which allows a person to be resurrected as long as it is implanted within the person. The Church is in league with the Technocore, basically sentient computer life originally created back in the 20th century, now living in the Void Which Binds (I give up here on the explanation for how the Void is related to Planck space, etc.- -just work with me here). The Core is responsible for the cruciform. There are some factions of the Core that want humanity destroyed, some that want them alive, and some that don't really care. The focal point is Aenea, who is The One Who Teaches (yes, you may read that as "messiah"--after all, the Church is involved). Aenea is supposed to save humanity from the Core, the Church, etc.
And how, do you ask, do the Lions, Tigers, and Bears (oh, my-- there, I said it!) have to do with this mess? And what about the Shrike, bad guy in the first two novels, but apparently on OUR side in these two? No fair asking--you have to read the book.
Just for snicks, do you have an interest in Buddhism? Well, you get to meet the latest Dalai Lama on one of the planets that Aenea visits. She is on the planet to help design and build a Temple (Frank Lloyd Wright, remember? See, it all fits in.) During this stop, we get a nice little dissertation on Catholicism and Buddhism and how it relates to whats going on, right in front of both the Dalai Lama, Aenea's friend, and several members of the Church hierarchy, who even though they are chasing after Aenea and have her right in front of them are powerless to do anything about it because of our old buddy the Shrike. It's a tremendously powerful chapter.
One of the LOCUS columnists talks about how THE RISE OF ENDYMION turns what we thought we were reading in the first three books into something completely different. He's right, but it all fits and is so well done that I was spellbound. It isn't often that happens any more, believe me. There are several passages and chapters that explain what is REALLY going on, and they are a fascinating read.
The book is also full of great mom and apple pie philosophy, and some pretty good science is included in some the explanations for the motivation of Technocore and why it's view shouldn't be allowed to continue (well, one faction of the Core, anyway).
If you couldn't tell by now, this was my favorite book of 1997 (at least until I sit down to read those Hugo nominees that I haven't read). I heartily recommend all four of the "Hyperion" books.
And now, I'll think I'll take a break. In a little while, I'm going to have to start reading books that I may not like. So I'm going to indulge myself in a novel or three by a couple of friends of mine. You'll hear from me again when the final Hugo ballot comes out. [-jak]
THE APOSTLE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Robert Duvall writes, directs, and stars in this story of a preacher who is a fugitive from the law but who overcomes adversity and founds a new church. This is a long film with a simple story, but everything is rushed to leave time for Duvall's extended sequences of preaching. These speeches are a joy to watch only until it becomes obvious they are eating the rest of his film alive. This is a good film that should have been a lot better. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 13 positive, 1 negative, 5 mixed
For years I have thought that Robert Duvall is the best American actor. And his acting in THE APOSTLE is as good as ever. But Duvall has let his vanity run away from him in this film. He has what could be a moving story if he had taken the time to flesh it out. Instead he cut the story down to the bare minimum to allow for more time for his preaching sequences. The film comes in at a running time of 148 minutes, yet skimps on story-line for what should be a simple story to tell. One example of his skimping: Billy Bob Thornton goes through some emotional changes and should be a major character, but his entire presence in the film is reduced to two scenes, And Thornton's changes are too rushed, because the screenplay, written by Duvall give him only the two scenes.
Take all of the shouting and singling out of THE APOSTLE and what is left is a rather simple and short story. Sonny Dewey (Duvall) is a charismatic Pentecostal preacher in both the common and the religious sense of "charismatic." He has been preaching in New Boston, Texas for so long that religion has become an essential part of his being. Every moment of the day if he is not preaching he is hymn-singing. If he is not hymn-singing he is trying to convert somebody. He seems to be incapable of speaking three consecutive sentences without one of them mentioning Jesus. But his dedication to preaching is not enough. Sonny's life starts to fall apart when his wife (Farrah Fawcett) and a young minister cheat on Sonny together and then manage to oust Sonny from his own believe looking at her worn hawk-like features that she was once a national pinup. But it is harder to believe that this is the same actress who seemed so untalented in LOGAN'S RUN. She deserved to be seen more in this film. Fawcett has come a long way. Miranda Richardson provides love interest in the new life. It would not be accurate to say, however, that Duvall steals the film but that as writer and director he never gives it to anyone else. He gives the film very believable dialog and captures the feel of the more rural sections of the deep South.
Duvall is a good director and a better actor. One can only disagree with some of the choices he made in bringing together this film. This could have been an expose in the tradition of ELMER GANTRY. After national scandals of clergy people being shown to be hypocrites, it took some courage to make the hero of this film a preacher and a hypocrite. But Duvall does manage after a while to make his audience feel for Sonny and want him to succeed. The critics have mostly liked this film better than I did. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and 1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A leisurely told murder mystery and courtroom drama, but the real interest value is in the eccentric Savannah, Georgia gentry who form the background and texture of the story. While not primarily a comedy, the (intentionally) humorous elements rank this among the funniest films of the year. This is a film that deserved much better treatment from the critics. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 4 positive, 13 negative, 5 mixed
I saw this film well after most people saw it, and it still was nothing like what I expected. I knew it was a murder story dealing with the well-to-do in Savannah, Georgia, society. I expected it to be dark and very serious and dealing with festering family relationships. However, I do not remember a 1997 film that had me laughing so much. The comedy elements of this film are delightful, the characters I expected initially I would end up hating in this expose turn out to be likable and some even endearing. If anything the comic elements of this film reminded me of a more smartly written MY COUSIN VINNY or perhaps DOC HOLLYWOOD.
Town and Country Magazine has wanted for years to cover the annual Christmas party of society baron Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey) of Savannah. He finally has given permission and they have sent John Kelso (John Cusack). At least two surprises await Kelso. One is the number of eccentrics Kelso finds in one small space of Savannah. One man, for the best of reasons, gives a daily walk to an empty dog collar. Another has several real pets on tethers, but they are all horseflies. The other surprise Kelso finds is that he is the stand-offish one, and the upper crust of society are anxious to pull him into their circle and be friendly. The only sour note is a bitter scene he notes between Williams and a Billy, low-class apparent houseboy. After the party Kelso goes to bed with more writing material than he bargained for, and is awakened in the middle of the night to see a fleet of police cars at the Williams mansion. Billy had returned after the party and had a run-in with Williams that left Billy dead. Kelso quits Town and Country and decides to write a book about the trial and Savannah in general. He also becomes a de facto member of the Williams defense team. He gets embroiled in more local eccentrics, mostly friendly, and tries to unravel for himself what happened the night of the killing.
Director Clint Eastwood takes his time, and 155 minutes of ours, unraveling the story of the hidden secrets of modern Savannah society, many of which would have been shocking in the 1950s. Both the type of character Williams is and his being played by the usually sinister Kevin Spacey makes this smart, suave, affable, yet candid man a real pleasure to see on the screen. John Cusack is serviceable as the point-of-view character, but not the most watchable actor on the screen. The actor who surpasses expectations is Australian actor Jack Thompson as Williams's lawyer Sonny Seilor. Some may remember Thompson as the supportive father of a gay son in THE SUM OF US. Of a more comic turn is Savannah personality The Lady Chablis whose minor secret seemed obvious to me before the character even appeared on-screen. I strongly suspected just hearing Chablis's voice through a door. It is something of a false note when characters in the film are surprised.
After I was bored by THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, I was not expecting a lot from MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. Now I am sorry I was not able to see the film until after I made my top ten list of last year. The film was a true unexpected pleasure. I rate 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:
Sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipede -- not because they have a hundred feet, but because most people can't count above fourteen. -- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), "Reflections," 1799