MT VOID 01/29/99 (Vol. 17, Number 31)

MT VOID 01/29/99 (Vol. 17, Number 31)

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/29/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 31

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.

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: The Dilbert Zone--a review of the television series follows later in this issue. [-mrl]


How come at the end of an episode Star Trek shows you scenes of what they call an "all-new episode?" If these are really scenes of the episode it won't be all new. [-mrl]


I write this going into a cold and I can tell this is going to be a bad one. I have been known to get the kind of colds that are strong enough to stomp whole cities. My colds are the kinds of things that people make disaster movies about. My throat gets sore. My nose runs, I start coughing uncontrollably. Sometimes my digestion goes caflooey. I lose my sense of taste. So I know what you are asking yourself. Why am I complaining? Aren't these things that I look forward to when I eat spicy food? Sure they are. But I want to earn them myself, not have some virus force them on me. After all, who knows where that virus has been? It is bad enough getting infected by a virus, but what if it is a dirty virus?

Of course, these days I rarely get a cold like this one. It has been a while since I have had a bad one, which may be, because I have been taking Vitamin C, which acts like Kryptonite for colds. And my colds need something like Kryptonite. Vitamin C seems to work for me to fight colds. But as luck would have it this one started at about 9:30 AM on a workday. If we had little emergency Vitamin C dispensers at work--in case of cold, break glass--I might have been healthy today. But I have to take Vitamin C in the first few hours of symptoms or it does not prevent the cold. I took more than enough to know I will not get scurvy on top of the cold, but that was about all the good it will do. If I had been smart, I would have run home and taken Vitamin C at the first throat tickling, but that would just not have been practical.

Science tells us that Vitamin C does absolutely nothing for a cold. Vitamin C is good only for preventing the aforementioned scurvy. And it may be that my colds are really just a breed of scurvy, but I doubt it. Let's just say that I love the illusion that Vitamin C gives me that it is doing something good for my cold. The only light colds I ever get are when I take Vitamin C in the first few hours. For once I think I will believe in a folk remedy. Particularly if the folk are people like Linus Pauling.

When I was a kid, I would these colds that I knew would last me three months. Maybe the cold would end, but I would have a cough for three months. And I would think of the cough as being part of the cold. It would not be unusual for me to get a second cold while the first one was still going on. You would think that you should get some sort of deferment in a just universe. One cold should give you resistance to the next one, but I am living proof that it does not work that way. I had a friend who had a cold all through high school.

Back then and ever since every time I got a cold I would get the same picture in my mind that some alien organism has come to earth on a comet, landed in my back yard, and has found me as its first human host. These few hours of misery were the quiet before the storm. It would not be long before it would totally engulf me. First there would first be more of it than me, then take me over entirely, then (as though it matters to me at that point) it will go on and take everybody down. Like the Blob, it would just keep engulfing people. At the same time next week Earth will have a new master. At least this took some of the sting out of catching cold. I was being a pioneer. Back when I was a kid my mother thought it was important for me to stay inside when I had a cold. She had no idea why I kept combing the back yard looking for a tiny meteor crater. I don't know how that would help, but it would. But then we don't really have a good grasp of what causes disease.

That was one of my cold fantasies and one that persists. These days I don't check the back yard. When someone is looking. My other cold fantasy came from Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND. That was the novel in which the main character was bitten by a bat at some point in his past. He had gotten very sick but survived. Many years later there is a pandemic disease, literally pandemic. Everyone gets it and apparently dies. Everyone dies but our bat- bitten hero. Everyone around him sickens and dies, but his former disease has left him immune. Scary thought. So when I get a cold I consoled myself with the thought that everyone else including my bully English teacher would be dead, but I would live on. (Mr. Lynch ran his English class like a Marine drill instructor. Most of what I know about English literature I know from Lynch, but it is really hard to summon up much gratitude for him.)

Well, hope you fair better in this cold season than I did. Button up. [-mrl]

PLAYING BY HEART: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Here are six stories with people talking about love intercut together. The stories by writer/director Willard Carroll are about love and death, candor and lies. PLAYING BY HEART is also something of a puzzle film along the lines of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. But mostly the film proves that veteran actors like Gina Rowlands, Sean Connery, and especially Ellen Burstyn can act rings around their younger competition. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)

"Talking about love is like dancing about architecture." That one line is probably the cleverest thing about PLAYING BY HEART and will probably be remembered as a trivia question long after the rest of the film is forgotten. (Actually the quote is a variation on the aphorism that talking about music is like dancing about architecture which has been variously attributed to Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, Thelonious Monk, and Steve Martin.) Yet, knowing the futility of talking about love, yet knowing that futility the film still attempts to tell a series of stories about love, all cut together.

In PLAYING BY HEART we have the story of Joan (Angelina Jolie) whose intended new lover Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) is totally uninterested in relating to another person. Gillian Anderson of THE X-FILES plays stage director Meredith who is suspicious of Trent (Jon Stewart) who would like to start a relationship with her. Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) and Roger (Anthony Edwards) have a great time together and are married, but not to each other. Mildred (Ellen Burstyn) and Mark (Jay Mohr) are mother and son talking one last time before Mark dies of AIDS. Hugh (Dennis Quaid) is looking to form a relationship with anybody, female or male, as long as he can build the relationship on a lie. Finally and perhaps best, there are Hannah (Gina Rowlands) and fatally ill Paul (Sean Connery) who after a long marriage want to reaffirm their vows, and just now Hannah has discovered that early in their marriage, Paul loved another woman. Six stories about six relationships, working and failing.

As he tells these stories Willard Carroll is doing something behind the curtain that the viewer comes to suspect early on, but is not actually confirmed until late in the film. By the time it becomes clear what the script has done, it is probably too late to pick up all the details, at least on the first viewing. Like THE USUAL SUSPECTS, one probably has to see the film twice to pick up on some of the subtleties.

Sean Connery's character Paul is dying yet even he does not have the vulnerability of Ellen Burstyn's Mildred who has to cope with the death of her son. It may be that having to deal with the death of a loved one is harder than dying oneself or it may be just that Burstyn is an actor who can reach from the screen and tear at a viewer's heartstrings. Paul Newman was approached for the part of Paul. In fact, he seems to fit the role better than Connery. It was probably written with Newman in mind. It may say something about acting styles, but ten hours after having seen this film one still cares about the Burstyn, Connery, and Rowlands characters. Speaking for myself I can picture the younger characters, but I do not really care a whole lot for what happens to them and their relationships. Burstyn can whimper more powerfully than Angelina Jolie can shout. Perhaps the problem is that there are too many characters to cover the material more than superficially. Carroll is satisfied to just give us a feel for the personality of the characters. The veteran actors know how to make the most of their time.

In 1998 Willard Carroll wrote and directed PLAYING BY HEART as well as TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN. Before this year Carroll has not has not directed since his debut in 1990 with a somewhat under-appreciated horror film, THE RUNESTONE. If PLAYING BY HEART is no worse then THE RUNESTONE, it is really little more accomplished. I would give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. Of some tangential interest is the fact that the MPAA in a bizarre ruling rejected the shooting title of this film DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE as being too similar to the current DANCING AT LUGHNASA. It is hard to imagine the two being confused. [-mrl]

DILBERT: (a television review by Mark R. Leeper):

One of a small elite of the funniest men in America--up there with Gary Larsen, Kenneth Starr, and Dave Barry--is Scott Adams, the creator of the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. In an era when American business management is so frequently awarding itself higher and higher salaries for questionable business decisions, Dilbert has become the voice of the middle class. He is a typical engineer facing the pains of the late 20th century. Many but by no means all of those pains are being visited upon him by obvious insensitive blunders by bad management. The line level engineers have adopted Dilbert as one of their own. It is unlikely that there is a technical company in America without some Dilbert strips decorating hallways.

And now for the time being there is a "Dilbert" television series, but catch it quick on UBN if you want to see it because it probably will not last long. The problem is that something that works well as a three-panel daily comic strip does not necessarily work as well in a longer format. A half-hour program requires a plot. The "Peanuts" comic strip made the transition with what was at some infrequent television specials. The creators mastered the art of balancing little comic strip incidents and at the same time telling a story. Eventually they even went into feature films. But "Dilbert" is starting as a weekly half-hour show. The task of telling a story worth telling and long enough to fill a half-hour slot, week after week, is going to be much more difficult. And judging by the first half-hour the series is already struggling. The half-hour had many short chuckles that would have made good comic strips, but the narrative plotting was weak. The first story came to a climax that was not even obviously any sort of climax. Dilbert had to find and choose among names for an unknown product- -unknown not just to the audience but also to the characters in the story--and in the end one silly name was hesitantly chosen. Here we have even less idea than in the strip what Dilbert's company does. In the comic strip we get a strong impression Dilbert and his cronies are in the telecommunications business. Indeed Adams's background was from one of the Bell Operating Companies. But in the cartoon his company seems to have dabbled in herbal lozenges. That is, to say the least, disorienting. It was, perhaps, better to leave the business vague.

Visually there are some problems adapting to the new medium. Dilbert is always shown in the comic strip with his tie turned up, which I had always interpreted as meaning that the wind had somehow picked it up. But perhaps it was better to leave that mysterious. In the animated version we see that his tie is always stiffly curled as if there is a wire inside it. This makes far less sense. The mouthless Dogbert is given a mouth in the animation, but only when he speaks. The animation seems to otherwise be consistent with the comic strip. The music accompanying the show is by Danny Elfman. The theme is called in the credits "The Dilbert Zone." In fact, Danny Elfman recycled it from his score from THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980), a film he made with his brother while with the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. That recycling may not be unreasonable since I would estimate that only about forty-seven people saw this weird little film and eight of those saw it at my house.

The first half-hour of "Dilbert" is not a promising start and many of the decisions made in the production will be disappointing to loyal "Dilbert" fans. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
                                   -- Oscar Wilde