MT VOID 11/06/98 (Vol. 17, Number 19)

MT VOID 11/06/98 (Vol. 17, Number 19)


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/06/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 19

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 mleeper@lucent.com
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087 jetzt@lucent.com
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076 njs@lucent.com
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2E-537  732-957-6330 robmitchell@lucent.com
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070 eleeper@lucent.com
Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl.
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the Week: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4824/tiff.htm. Evelyn Leeper's Toronto International Film Festival report. [-ecl]


DAM: This notice is brought to you by DAM--Mothers Against Dyslexia. [-mrl]


Dentists: In my irritation and rage over the lousy service we get from our HMO and some of our other medical coverage. I have turned like a mad dog on someone whom in my more rational moments I am sure must be is really innocent. But I am going to vent my wrath on this person anyway. For at least a few minutes I want this person to know I blame him for the health care crisis. That person, of course, is me.

Okay, me, stand up and take your licks. Now you know that for something like twenty years you have gone to the same dentist. Is this not true?

Well, no. Not exactly. I have had two different dentists.

But they have shared a practice and operated out of the same office, have they not?

Yes, I think that would be accurate to say.

And how would you describe your relationship with these two dentists? Has it been cordial?

Oh, I would say it has been more dental.

(Tittering from the audience)

And have the dentists spoken to you in a friendly way when you have visited?

Yes I would say so.

Did the older of the two dentists describe for you his sports car?

Yes, on multiple occasions.

Did he not tell you about how he was rebuilding said sports car?

Yes, he mentioned that.

And did he not mention his boat?

Yes he did.

So you would conclude from this that your dentist was reasonably well off financially.

Yes, that would be fair to say.

Mr. Leeper, do you not bring your lunch to work in order save money? Do you not keep a supply of hot sauces in your desk drawer expressly for the purpose of livening up such meals?

Yes. Yes. I admit it. I thought nobody knew. I am guilty. Yes. But I am glad I do it. Guilty. I am guilty.

Uh, Mr. Leeper. Mr. Leeper. That is not the thrust of this line questioning. I am unaware of any law against keeping hot sauce in your desk. If the truth be known I do it myself.

You do? Someone as wise and intelligent as you obviously are?

Yes. It is all right, Mr. Leeper. Even I have hot sauces in my desk drawer. But let us return to our line of questioning. Mr. Leeper, you bring your lunch to work to save money. Do you consider yourself to be well off financially?

Well, I am a software engineer for a major technology company.

As bad as that?

Every bit.

Mr. Leeper, what would you say has happened to your dentist bills over the last 20 years? Have they increased or decreased?

I would say they have increased substantially.

And do you generally have serious dental problems?

I have had perhaps one or two cavities over the previous twenty years.

Recent ones?

No, about ten or twelve years ago.

Mr. Leeper, about what does a dental visit cost these days?

I would say roughly $100.

And that would include what?

A cleaning and checkup.

How long does this take?

About 40 minutes.

About 40 minutes of the dentist's time?

Well no, about 35 minutes are the cleaning. The dentist just pops in at the end to take a quick look.

And this costs $100?

"Yes."

Does this not seem excessive?

Well, there are other costs for the dentist to cover.

Such as?

Well, I am sure there is rent and malpractice insurance. And the equipment does not come cheaply.

That's right, it doesn't. Would you say a boat and a sports car come cheaply?

No, probably not.

Would you say that your dentist lives a good deal more comfortably than you do?

That would be fair to say.

And does your dentist bring his lunch and have hot sauces in his desk?

I would assume not. I don't know, but I doubt it.

Has it ever occurred to you to protest costs like $100 for a quick checkup and cleaning?

No.

And why not?

Well, what good will it do?

Mr. Leeper, may I submit to you that because your employer was footing the bill you sat idly by and watched your medical bills increase and give you very poor price performance simply because it was not you who was actually paying the bill?

There may be some truth to that.

And did you not think that this would come back to haunt you someday?

Well I really thought it was a matter between the doctor and the employer.

You thought your employer would put up with that situation indefinitely? That the cost of your dental care wasn't going to come back to bite you?

I thought it was just one of those expenses of doing business. I thought the company would absorb it. I stood by while my company paid prices I would never accept if they were coming out of my own wallet. There was no check on these prices. I allowed myself to be used by overcharging doctors and dentists. Okay, I was a chump.

You certainly were. There is enough blame to go around, of course. You have the greedy dentists and doctors who drove the prices up. And you have the corporations who found inexpensive alternatives at the expense of their employees. I am not saying that you get the whole blame. But there is a nice big chunk of it with your name on it.

Guilty. Guilty. Uh, can I say that now?

Certainly, Mr. Leeper. Please be my guest. [-mrl]


VAMPIRES: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: There is an intriguing story about the relation between vampires and the Catholic Church in VAMPIRES, but it is pushed to the background so that John Carpenter can try to outdo other vampire films for gore and violence. Even a James Woods performance (here a little substandard anyway) cannot save this film from itself. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

VAMPIRES starts out almost in the style of a spaghetti Western with an attack on a small homestead in New Mexico. The house has a nest of vampires and Jack Crow (James Woods) is leading a team of vampire hunters in to clean them out. While the initial imagery is a little over-dramatic, it gives way to what is a fairly decent action sequence. That is enough action to last us a while and we could, director John Carpenter would let us, get to a story line. But it is not very long and there is not much plot until the next big action scene. Then there is only a bit more of plot before the next action scene after that. The plot is kept to a minimum and the interesting ideas in the plot really get the short end. And that is something of a pity because the film, based on the book VAMPIRE$ by John Steakley, gives us a myth for the origins of vampires and explains why vampires are so intertwined with religious imagery. This could be an interesting departure from the standard vampire film, but Carpenter decides to tell us about it rather than to show it. What Carpenter saves his serious screen time for a sequence of spectacular fights between hunters and vampires. There is a lot of fighting and lots of gore. Anything intriguing is kept to a minimum to so it does not get in the way of pleasing the action film fans. This has not always been Carpenter's style. His 1981 version of THE THING has action but also challenges the viewer to do a little thinking about the film's central science fictional question.

Jack Crow heads a vampire SWAT team, cleaning up nests of vampires with high-tech spears and crossbows. In the early part of the film his team is wiped out by a particularly mean vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) who has been tipped off to who Crow is. Now Crow team is gone and he is down to himself and his sidekick Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin). To make matters worse, he does not know the people on his own side, Tony and his backers, he can trust. Meanwhile Jack is sure the vampires are looking for something that must be hidden somewhere here in New Mexico.

If this is sounding like a very tired police corruption plot with a few obvious substitutions, that's exactly what it is. The same story looks just as well with two partner cops looking for a gang of hood who are themselves looking for a packet of heroin. But Carpenter goes against a familiar principle of film: show people, don't tell them. Just about everything in the plot other than the fights we are told about in the dialog and not shown. Fundamental questions in the plot like where does Crow get his funding, why are the vampires in New Mexico--what do they want and why do they want it, what is the connection of the vampires and the Catholic Church, how did Crow come to be a vampire hunter and why devote his life to it? The answers to any of these questions could have been dramatized, but instead are revealed through dialog.

Now if all this was not bad enough, Carpenter misuses the James Wood persona. Woods plays a particular sort of cool lowlife very well. But Carpenter leads off the film by having Woods do some Sergio-Leone-style mythic posturing. While his crew prepares for an attack he stands staring fixedly through shades at the house that will be his target. Woods does not work as a larger than life mythic hero. That is not his style and it just does not work very well. There are some simple things that Carpenter should be looking for as director that he misses. In one scene we are looking at a motel room with dead people on the floor. One female corpse is on the floor in front of a chair so that there is about an inch of daylight between her and the chair. As the actress breathes the gap widening and narrowing makes it obvious her arm is moving up and down. One also wonders how the existence of vampires is kept secret. These vampires do not maintain a low profile.

There are arguably logical flaws in the film. There is some question in my mind whether Carpenter has a consistent policy on what effect bullets have on vampires. It would take some rationalization to explain why in some scenes sunlight has a dramatic effect on vampires, yet in a scene toward the end a vampire can walk under a burned roof that lets him be swept by beams of sunlight.

I suspect that the book on which this film was based was better thought out. While I might recommend this film to an action audience I would say that what I look for in a vampire film VAMPIRES rates a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. Perhaps I will read the book. [-mrl]


KOMARR by Lois McMaster Bujold (1998, Baen Books, HC, SFBC edition, 311 pp., ISBN 0-671-87877-8) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):

I like Miles Vorkosigan--really, I do. I'm just tired of him.

Okay, that's not fair, I suppose. I'm tired of Bujold writing only about Miles. Yes, I know she's written a fantasy novel. One. Other. Novel. All the rest have been set in the Vorkosigan universe. I'm beginning to think that Bujold is completely incapable of writing anything else.

Oh. KOMARR. That's what this is about, isn't it? Hmm. Okay. KOMARR is a nice little story. The dust jacket tells us it's about Miles and another Imperial Auditor investigating the destruction of a solar mirror vital to the terraforming of Komarr. Of course, there is history between Komarr and the Vorkosigans, going back to the Komarr revolt, Aral Vorkosigan (Miles' father), and all that kind of political rot and intrigue. The story centers around the investigation and eventual resolution of the problem, which leads to the discovery of a bunch of disgruntled scientists and their desire to close off wormhole access between Barrayar and Komarr. Pardon me, but, yawn.

No, the real story here is "Miles is getting a real live, honest to goodness girlfriend." It's just disguised as the other story. Don't get me wrong--Miles could use a good woman in his life. And one that will stick around, instead of taking off on him. And this one might. So this part is good.

So, what's my beef with the novel? There's nothing to recommend it, really. It's a standard, less than exciting Miles adventure with a sidebar that is intended to set up even more books with the heading "A Miles Vorkosigan Adventure." Miles isn't very witty. Oh, we see him as a little vulnerable, nervous fellow as it's obvious that he's falling for Kat, but he's not as witty as he usually is. I was disappointed.

But that shouldn't let Miles/Bujold fans from reading the book. It's not bad--it's just not good, either. [-jak]


ARROWDREAMS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF ALTERNATE CANADAS edited by Mark Shainblum and John Dupuis (Nuage Editions, ISBN 0-921-833-51-2, 1997, 191pp, C$19.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

This is a book for a fairly small audience, but one reason I'm reviewing it is because even that audience might not hear about it. (When I looked for it in the Toronto branch of Chapters, a Canadian superstore, no one there could find it. I eventually found it in short story collections, having checked the "Canadian Interest," "Canadian Fiction, and science fiction sections.)

It is, as the subtitle suggests, an anthology of alternate history stories whose focus is on Canada: Canadian history, Canadian personalities, Canadian sensibilities. I am (I hasten to point out) not Canadian, so several of them simply went over my head.

Anthologies usually start out with their strongest story, so I can only conclude that hockey is vastly more important in Canada than any sport is in the United States, because Edo van Belkom's "Hockey's Night in Canada" did nothing for me. Nancy Kilpatrick's "Gross Island--The Movie" is not even what I would call alternate history--a movie company is filming a historical drama about an epidemic and being very inaccurate about it. There is no historical speculation going on here. (Had this appeared as a straight story somewhere else I would say it was an interesting look at the film industry, so it's not badly written, just not alternate history.)

"Health in Us" by Paula Johanson is also about an epidemic, but it *is* alternate history and at least competently done, if a bit short. Paul Scott's "On the Edge" is a post-apocalyptic story with the "apocalypse" being the secession of Quebec in 1995. It's barely alternate history, the more so because a secession tomorrow could result in much the same story.

Michael Skeet's "Near Enough to Home" is set in a different United States Civil War, the result of us having lost Louisiana to the British and making Canada much more a force to be reckoned with. The main game here seems to be "spot the stars," but it's not too bad.

Derryl Murphy's "Cold Ground" has Louis Riel escaping execution through black magic. If I actually knew who Louis Riel was, it might have meant more.

"Misfire" by Shane Simmons has Richthofen surviving World War I and leading Germany to greater air power than in our timeline, and this survival is attributed to a jammed gun on an airplane flown by a Canadian. This is a tenuous connection to Canada at best, and the fact is that we have no idea who shot down Richthofen in our timeline anyway. In spite of this, the speculation on the effect of Richthofen's survival makes this worth reading.

My prediction is that Jews will enjoy "The Last of the Maccabees" by Allan Weiss and Gentiles won't. It seems in many ways a sort of in-joke which reminded me of the tribe in "Joe Versus the Volcano." Not that "The Last of the Maccabees" is a humorous story, but having "Indians" wearing tzitzit and payes, and speaking Hebrew is by its very nature somewhat risible. The fact that their discoverers are from the Roman Commonwealth, and the French seem to be Buddhists just adds to the mix, and there's even more I won't tell you. (Weiss does slip at least once and have the Indians speak Yiddish instead of Hebrew.) I enjoyed this more than most of the other stories, but then it really is more an "alternate Judaism" story than an "alternate Canada" one.

"The Coming of the Jet" by Eric Choi assumes Canadian supremacy in the aerospace industry. I suppose techno-types will appreciate it, but it was only slightly above the hockey story for me. Dave Duncan's "For Want of a Nail" assumes a French victory on the Plains of Abraham an is not related to Robert Sobel's novel of the same name (which dealt with a British victory at Burgoyne).

Glenn Grant's "Thermometers Melting" takes the familiar approach of taking well-known people and looking at them in an alternate timeline. In this case Grant uses Hemingway and Trotsky, and adds an additional bonus at the end. It's a bit hard to follow at times, since it is supposedly excerpts from a longer work, but one of the better stories nonetheless.

And finally is "The Case of the Serial 'De Quebec a la Lune' by Veritatus" by Laurent McAllister (pen name for Yves Meynard and Jean-Louis Trudel). I *think* it is a (fake) academic article on a (non-existent) serial patterned after Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" but written by a Canadian and possibly set in its own past. Are you sufficiently confused? If not, read the story and you will be. Some people like this sort of thing, which is why Connie Willis won a Hugo for "The Soul Selects Her Own Society ...," but this is so dry as to rive away all but the most confirmed academic.

Interestingly, though the final story is about a (fictional) French-language story, none of the stories in this Canadian anthology appear to have been written in French. (At any rate, I saw no translator credits.) This in itself seems to imply an alternate Canada, one in which there is no French-language science fiction. (I note that the one Quebec secession story implies a negative result.)

If you are Canadian and enjoy alternate histories, you probably want to seek out this book. For those of us south of the border (or over the seas, or for that matter west of the border in Alaska), this is probably not going to appeal to you unless you are a student of Canadian history or culture. [-ecl]


1998 Toronto International Film Festival: (film reviews and commentary by Mark R. Leeper) (part 5 of 10)

WELCOME BACK MR. MCDONALD (Japan with subtitles)

CAPSULE: Very funny TV-like situation comedy of people trying to put on a live radio play and having to change the plot many times mid-broadcast. The territory it covers is very, very much like the American cable TV show "Remember WENN." Somehow the plot seems a little thin for a feature film, but still a lot of fun. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)

Koki Mitani was around to answer questions after the film and proved to be fairly funny, even with a language barrier. He claimed that 80% of the jokes, both Americans and Japanese laughed at. 10% just Japanese laughed at. 10% just Americans laughed at. From there is was over to the Uptown for the midnight show.

[to be continued] [-mrl]


                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619
                                   mleeper@lucent.com

Quote of the Week:

     To think logically the logically thinkable -- that
     is the mathematician's aim.
                                   -- C. J. Keyser