MT VOID 06/19/98 (Vol. 16, Number 51)

MT VOID 06/19/98 (Vol. 16, Number 51)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/19/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 51

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 201-447-3652 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 2E-537  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: "A magazine about comics from the 1930s to the 1970s, and pulp magazines." It has just started serializing that classic, THE STEAM MAN OF THE PRAIRIES. [-ecl]

Diagramming: I discovered something. I may not be the only person to have discovered this, but it is a technique that I have found to be very useful. I am able to display on a piece of paper a graphical representation of the plot of a book. That may sound like a weird thing to do, but it is actually very useful. Nobody taught me this in my English courses, but I wish they would have. I might as well publish it here as any place.

We were sitting in a theater in London waiting to see RICHARD II by one William Shakespeare. Oh, it was going to be a thrill to see the play done by good actors on a stage. (The other interesting thing I learned that night is not to feel so bad if when I am talking to someone I accidentally spit on them. Derek Jacobi spits enough that it can be seen from the cheap seats.) But it was not an unalloyed thrill to see a Shakespeare play I had never seen before. It was going to be something of a struggle for me to figure out what was going on. I am not just talking about the language. One gets over problems with Shakespeare's flowery 16th Century prose in a few minutes at the start of the play. But the characters are somewhat tougher to keep straight and the plot was complex. It was so complex that the program actually had the plot printed out. I read it once and found it to be a confusing hodgepodge of characters and actions. And if this synopsis were confusing in modern English, how much worse would the actual play have been?

And so I either invented or reinvented--I do not know which--plot diagramming. And this is a technique that has stuck with me for the following decade and perhaps will for the rest of my life. I realized that there was a way to diagram the plot I was reading to help keep it straight. I drew an oval on the page for each new character as they were introduced in the synopsis. If they say Henry fears Richard, I draw an arrow from Henry's oval to Richard's and label it "fears." There can be multiple arrows if, say, later Henry kills Richard. Or there can be arrows in the opposite direction if that is the way the killing went--and the early kings of England were a seriously rowdy bunch and arrows could go in all directions. I treat relationships as actions. If Richard is the son of John, I draw an arrow from Richard to John and label it "son."

I cannot fully account for why this technique works as well as it does, but it seems to organize the plot. Each new sentence of the plot is not just another piece to remember, it fits into a logical structure. In addition, I think that the human mind thinks in pictures. It helps when you see a play acted out that it is the same actor in a role so you can visually associate that actor with the character. You cannot do that when you are reading, but it helps to be able to associate a character with a given position on a page, particularly if you can see all the other actions that character has done and that character's relationships. Even before the play had started I had a really good idea who everybody was and who was going to do what. When the characters were fleshed out on the stage I quickly could associate the actor with a position on my page.

In later days when I refined the technique (and there have been some refinements, but only minor ones) I might write the actor's name in the oval. If I want to describe the character, I can put that in a square at the side and put a little square in the oval to remind me that there is more. For particularly complex plots I have connectors that allow me to tie multiple pages together. When Peter Brook's six-hour MAHABHARATA was shown on PBS there were so many characters and so much going on that it took four standard pages to diagram the whole plot with all the characters. The "Godfather" trilogy of films all fit on one sheet, but it was complex. In the third film when there are references to the first film, the original incidents come back immediately to mind. If that does not sound impressive to you, you have never struggled with a memory as short as mine is. But even now I can pull out those diagrams and quickly refresh my memory about the plots.

Now I have the technique and it works. I probably should write a book on it and sell it. I have seen that done with less. People can take a few simple memory techniques and write so much about them in large print that they can get a whole book out of them. But I haven't the foggiest idea how to stretch this technique out, so I will just pass the technique on to you. And I think that the idea may not be all that original in any case. When Gustav Meyerink was writing the book THE GOLEM he got bogged down and could not write any more. He admitted to a friend that his problem was that he had created so many characters that he no longer could keep them all straight. The friend somehow laid out the characters on a chessboard and it gave Meyerink enough of an understanding to return and finish the novel. Nobody has recorded exactly what the friend laid out on that chessboard or how it worked, but my suspicion is that it was not a lot different from my plot diagrams. [-mrl]

Addresses: The following exchange regarding addresses was found on the Net:

Someone said that in Britain, the Flat (or apartment) comes first, as in:

     Flat 5
     12 The Road
     AT98 9QZ

Patrick Nielsen Hayden replied, "You're trying to convince us that British addresses follow a rational system, but those of us who hand-addressed fanzines for years Are Not Fooled. We know that the typical British address actually looks like this:

     Nigel Ian Wanker
     15 The Old Rut
     Hops Nops the Tops
     Sodding Chipwich
     RU486 U8L8

He added, "'Doltesterostershire' may be abbreviated 'Dolts.', but it is always pronounced 'Dosher.'"

Michael R Weholt noted, "Oh, gawd, it's so true. My friend used to live Nr.Hexham. His address included the name of some hill, a cryptic reference to somebody-or- other's falling-down Manor House, and a freehand sketch of a relatively nearby barn. During bad weather, I took care to include the name of his cat."

"I have a friend who lectures in EU Studies at the University of Limerick; his address contains no numbers whatsoever. Indeed, some of the elements are actually in quotes, as though they can't quite believe themselves."

And Ray Radlein added, "Just to show that it is not uniquely a UKan problem, there was a time recently when my sister's address was something like:

     Robin Radlein
     The Old Stone House on Hwy. 32
     Martinsburg, WV  

"'The Old Stone House'"? Geez. Why not 'The Big House Just Past the Dairy Queen on the Left'?"

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION by Gore Vidal (Random House, ISBN 0-375-50121-5, 1998, 260pp, US$23) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Just as with Vidal's earlier LIVE FROM GOLGOTHA, I will be nominating this for a Hugo. Which is to say that, just as with LIVE FROM GOLGOTHA, I will be throwing away a vote, because the chances of enough nominating fans 1) reading THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, and 2) considering it as eligible for the Hugo, is vanishingly small. But hope springs eternal, they say, ...

Just to clear one thing up: THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION is definitely science fiction. There is time travel, there is alternate history, there is cloning (of a sort), and there is transplantation of personality into, well, robots (for lack of a better term). There is also sex, hence the rather outre cover which is supposed to parody the typical romance novel cover rather than seriously place this in that genre (though I think reversing the two figures would have been even better). One does have the feeling that the artist at least read the book, though.

T. is a thirteen-year-old student at St. Albans when he is summoned to the Smithsonian on April 7, 1939. War clouds are gathering, and he apparently is the one person who can save the world. But first he must meet the inhabitants of the Smithsonian, including all the Presidents and First Ladies as well as various anthropological representatives, all of whom come to life after hours a la the Twilight Zone episode. While he can't convince anyone to use his bomb that will destroy buildings but not people (politicos and the military prefer things the other way around), he also has some ideas for how to get the world out of its current crisis, which he foresees as leading to total nuclear war.

It isn't giving anything away to say that T. *does* change history, but that things don't turn out exactly as planned. Vidal does a lot of hand-waving about the various time paradoxes involved, but no more than many other authors. He also spends a fair amount of time having the various Presidents give their views on the world situation, what got them into it, and what they should do about it. As an observer of American historical thought, Vidal shows us the differences in philosophy among the Presidents: the isolationists, the expansionists, and so on. Decisions are not made in a vacuum in this book, but as the result of argument and discussion among the various philosophies. (One is reminded of the musical "1776.") Another reviewer has said that Vidal's work is "all style, no substance, and a pretty boring read," contains a "long droning narrative on the essence of time," and postulates an unlikely alternate history. Let me respond to this.


I find the concepts of "all style" and "pretty boring" a bit contradictory, but in matters of taste there can be no argument, as they say, so let me just say that if you haven't liked Vidal in the past you're unlikely to like him here. He concentrates as much on *how* he says something as on *what* he says. This certainly sets his work apart from much of the alternate history which is being written today. This is probably the crux of the dispute here, in fact. If you want to read this strictly as an alternate history novel, well, yes, you might say there is not enough of what happens to change this or cause that. But I tend to dislike that sort of novel, often full of detailed descriptions of battles, but with nothing of either characterization or literary style. I love to wallow in Vidal's excesses of style!

I also found Vidal's narrative on the essence of time not boring at all, but an interesting explication, if not completely scientifically rigorous. (It was at least as sensible as Kage Baker's in THE GARDEN OF IDEN.) And as for the fact that "a lot of it is the kid talking with dummies," as I said, I found the main character's discussions with the ex-Presidents, and the discussions among the ex-Presidents and other characters to be one of the book's strong points. If you'd rather think of it as having somehow downloaded their personalities into androids, maybe that will help. It's an artificial set-up, true, but no more so than finding God's corpse in James Morrow's TOWING JEHOVAH or having Dr. Frankenstein's creation as a baseball player in Michael Bishop's BRITTLE INNINGS. I don't demand hyperrealism of my alternate histories. (The last person to do that well was Robert Sobel.) What I look for is an alternate history that tries to say something about us. At Intersection in 1995, Harry Turtledove said that alternate history doesn't have to be believable to be good; there can be a "gonzo" story that was still good, and that in any case, we do not write about alternate worlds--we write about our world, and alternate history gives us a different mirror. I find enough content in what Vidal is trying to say in THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION that I am willing to overlook the question of strict plausibility.

I highly recommend this book to fans of time travel, alternate history, or sharp commentary on United States history. [-ecl]

FLANDERS by Patricia Anthony (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00528-3, 1998, 384pp, US$23.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In Flanders Field the poppies blow ....

To Flanders in 1916 comes Travis Lee Stanhope. He has volunteered for the British Army, looking for escape and adventure. What he finds is hell. (As a Southerner, one suspects he refused to listen to General Sherman's statement along these lines.) Kim Stanley Robinson summarized it well in "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations": 54,000 men who died over a fifteen-year period are remembered on the Vietnam Memorial. Imagine one of those for the Triple Entente losses every *six weeks* of the Western front of World War I, or thirty-five Vietnam Memorials in all, lined up in a row. Along the Western front, there were 7500 casualties each day, not in battle, but from sniping; this was called "wastage." This is particularly noteworthy, because it is as a sniper that Stanhope comes to Flanders.

Stanhope is an outsider: an American in the British Army, a Southerner constantly called "Yank," a reader of the Romantic poets in a company of men more interested in more earthly delights, a man blessed (or cursed) with "second sight." As such, he finds himself attracted to other outsiders, and Anthony does a good job of showing us the many faces of the outsider.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY compares this book to Erich Remarque's ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. I also saw a lot of parallels between FLANDERS and Stanley Kubrick's classic film PATHS OF GLORY. There is the heartlessness of the distant commanders in their commands. There is the insular attitude, the use of the outsider as scapegoat. What there is more of in Anthony's novel is the hell of war, a hell that could not be brought to the screen in the 1950s. She lays it all out--not just the battles and sniping and "authorized" killing, but also the disease and the maggots and the hardening of men's hearts and souls.

Stanhope tries desperately to hold on to his humanity in all this, but he finds himself gradually sinking further into not just despair, but death--the death of his soul.

Although the fantasy content is on a much more restrained level that most fantasy novels, it is necessary to the story. Without it, Anthony would still have a powerful novel, but a different novel. As it stands, though, this will be on my Hugo nomination ballot next year. [-ecl]

SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Harrison Ford and Anne Heche star in an amiable but very lightweight and familiar story of two castaways going from hating each other to falling in love. Director Ivan Reitman does nothing at all unusual with the story unless it is to get a non-wooden performance from Harrison Ford. This is a film that takes no chances. No guts, no glory, Mr. Reitman. Rating 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4) Spoiler Warning: there is a minor spoiler about the general direction of the plot.

The plot is a perennial one. Films showing people either falling in love or at least learning to respect each other when they are stranded someplace together go back at least to a silent version of the play THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON. Other obvious examples include Lina Wertmueller's SWEPT AWAY... and perhaps even THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Ivan Reitman has made inventive comedies in the past, but this certainly is not one of them. This time he is making a safe bet, a romantic comedy with a modern young woman marooned on a paradise island with Harrison Ford. The results are professional and moderately entertaining, but not very interesting.

Robin Monroe (played by Anne Heche) is a driven magazine editor of a fringe-sleazy check-out-line women's magazine called DAZZLE. As a change of pace for her, her boyfriend Frank Martin (David Schwimmer) has arranged a glamorous South Pacific Island getaway vacation during which he intends to propose marriage. The island is beautiful and remote and just about everything is perfect. There is one minor fly in all this ointment. Robin takes an instant dislike to Quinn Harris (Harrison Ford), the crude grease monkey pilot who provides the transportation to and from the island in his DeHaviland Beaver. Robin was expecting a comfortable airline sort of plane and in spite of Quinn's assurances that the Beaver is a great plane, she is afraid to set foot in it. (Sidenote for plane enthusiasts: Quinn is not alone in his respect for the Beaver. DeHaviland designed it for limited use in the Canadian north country but it has proven to be a much more versatile and durable plane in spite of its non-prepossessing looks. It has a 48-foot wingspan, is a tad over 30 feet in length, and stands about 9 feet high. If Robin was expecting a 747, it certainly was not what she got.) On the flight to the island Quinn brings along his girlfriend Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors), a show dancer on the resort island. Angelica only confirms Robin's attitude toward Quinn.

Once on the island things are going beautifully until Robin is called away to nearby Tahiti from her getaway for an emergency shoot for her magazine. Quinn, the often drunken island-hopping pilot is persuaded to take Robin to Tahiti. He flies her off for Tahiti right into the teeth of a tropical storm. (Incidentally, there are nice visuals with first-class model work here showing the plane in the electrical storm.) A lightning strike on the plane fries the instruments and his emergency landing on the beach of the nearest island shears off one of the two landing wheels. So Robin is marooned on some unknown island with Quinn and they are unable to radio out. The chances of returning to civilization rapidly diminish. Meanwhile, on the original resort island, Frank is getting to know Angelica better. There is little that is surprising in this or any other supposed plot twists. Neither of the characters of Frank and Angelica is well written, but not surprisingly Angelica turns out to be a more interestingly written character than Frank.

Harrison Ford's acting style is a little misty and distant. He may be the highest paid actor of all time, but for my taste he does not emote well. He generally under-acts as if he is half awake. I cannot put my finger on exactly the difference here, but he seems at least three-quarters awake. Heche is attractive but only adequate as an actress. Still, her romantic scenes with Harrison Ford are certainly credible in spite of claims I have heard that they are not. People have claimed that she could not do an adequate love scene with a man because off-screen she prefers women. I saw no evidence in this film. I found Schwimmer a little over the top with a Nicholas Cage sort of gawkiness.

The special effects and the island photography, mostly done in Hawaii, are nice to look at, though there was a slight washed out look on the print I saw. Some of the action scenes late in the film seem contrived. Overall this film is watchable but offers little beyond some light entertainment. It gets a mediocre 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     They call television a medium.  That is because it
     is neither rare nor well done.
                                   -- Ernie Kovacs