MT VOID 07/16/99 (Vol. 18, Number 3)

MT VOID 07/16/99 (Vol. 18, Number 3)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/16/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 3

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.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


Announcing an event!!!!

We will be showing the History Channel's one-hour documentary, "The Truth about Science Fiction" in Holmdel in room 1J-672 at noon on Wednesday, July 21. [-ecl]


It seems that the MT VOID has been more controversial of late. In one issue I discussed both the war in Kosovo and the new Walt Disney TARZAN. The former could turn into a whole series of articles going back and forth for all the discussion it started. That is tempting just to have something to talk about here, but do not think it would be interesting for all the readers. So I had one article commenting on the response to the Kosovo article. I will have one article revisiting the TARZAN review. One thing that people have picked up on, and that perhaps I should have been more clear about, is my complaint that the Disney films always make the villain repulsive-looking and the hero attractive. A number of different people have sprouted up claiming that I was wrong about that and that Disney has been having attractive villains for a long time. Examples they give are TARZAN and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I disagree that that is what is happening.

The artists at Disney have a good deal more control over the characters they create than people give them credit for. They can give a character features frequently considered to be attractive, and exaggerate them making the character unctuous and repulsive rather than good-looking. They also can take a deformed frame, such as Quasimodo's in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and make him attractive in spite of his deformity. If you give the character large eyes the character will seem innocent. There actually is a good reason for this. Eyes don't grow much during a lifetime so babies have very big eyes compared to the size of their faces. A character with big eyes is more attractive, probably because it triggers some sort of protective instinct that Nature gave us to take care of babies. Give a character big eyes and a pleasant mouth expression and the character will look likable and pleasant in spite of any deformity. The Beast in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was not really ugly either. He just had animal features.

There are other tricks to take what might at first seem like handsome features and make them revolting. Withhold the tricks to make a character attractive and exaggerate the features and the character becomes ugly, in spite of what superficially should be handsome features. This probably goes back to PETER PAN. Captain Hook has a hook, but otherwise his features are stylish and manly. He has that long, curly hair, but that frequently is supposed to be in vogue for men. But his mouth is twisted into a cruel expression so that the audience does not like his looks and his actions then become secondary. The viewer takes an immediate disliking to him because of his looks and that first impression turns out to be true.

Now to demonstrate this, a question for people who have seen TARZAN. Suppose one year ago you had been given mug shots of the major characters who were going to be in Tarzan. Without being told what the movie was to be you would be you were asked to pick out the bad guy, would you have had any problems picking out (the character you would later know as) Clayton as the bad guy? I think I could have picked him out easily. That was the point I was making. And the same is true of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Gaston and Clayton, though superficially given so-called manly features are nonetheless intentionally drawn to be repulsive. They are not always intended to be ugly in the world of the Disney story. Notice that Gaston has a string of rather superficial female admirers. But in our world we do not like their looks. And Disney always falls back on making characters whose looks we do not like bad characters. The popular are not always good in a Disney film, but those who really are attractive are always good. Those who are unattractive to the viewer are always evil. That is not always true in their live-action films. For example, the rather ugly blacksmith in THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN turns out to be something of a hero. But the Disney animations, which are aimed to take in a younger audience drive home this association that if you do not like a person's looks they are probably bad. I would really like to see a Disney animation where the innocent-looking, character who looks like someone you would want to be friends with is really the nasty and the basically repulsive-looking character is really a nice guy inside. [-mrl]

THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell (1996, Villard HC, 405pp, $23.00), ISBN 0-679-45150-1) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):

At this time of the year, you know that I've been reviewing the current crop of Best Novel Hugo nominees. And those of you who keep track of such things know that there's only one left--THE CHILDREN OF GOD by Mary Doria Russell. In talking to two or three people, I found out that THE CHILDREN OF GOD is a follow up novel to Russell's first novel, THE SPARROW. I also found out that THE SPARROW is a terrific novel. I'm also told that THE CHILDREN OF GOD is pretty good, too. All I can think is "Great. If I want to do this right, I'd better read THE SPARROW. And THE CHILDREN OF GOD is yet another Hugo nominee that can't stand on its own."


Will someone *please* tell me how this novel managed not to make the Hugo nominee list two years ago? For that matter, tell me how it didn't win the Best Novel Hugo.

THE SPARROW is one of the best novels I've read in the last few years. On the surface, it's a First Contact story. We have detected radio signals from the Alpha Centauri system--not just radio signals, but songs. And the songs are beautiful. So, a secret expedition is sent by the Jesuits to Alpha Centauri to make First Contact and learn about the civilization that makes the beautiful music. But it is more than just a First Contact story, as we eventually find out.

The main character is Emilio Sandoz, Jesuit priest and expert linguist. He is revered by his fellow crew members as well as people back on earth. However, he takes sole blame for the inevitable failure of the mission, as he returns home to earth alone, the last survivor of the expedition, physically, spiritually, and mentally maimed by his experiences on the planet Rakhat.

While THE SPARROW is indeed the story of Sandoz and the rest of the crew, it is more than that. It is the story of a journey in faith, the faith that Sandoz has in God. It is the story of how that faith is tested, and, needless to say, shattered. While that last sentence may be a tad bit of a spoiler, let me say that the story is in the telling.

What makes THE SPARROW so compelling is its characters. We come to learn a great deal about the crew of the expedition, how they came to be who they are and where they are today. We learn a great deal about the Jesuits on the committee who are charged with finding out just what happened on Rakhat. We see all the characters as real human beings, who love and hate, live and die, just like the real human beings you and I know in our every day lives. We can sympathize with the way they act and feel--it's very easy to do so. Most powerful is the reaction of the Jesuits as they learn the truth about what happened on Rakhat - while you can certainly label one or two of them jerks for the way they treat Sandoz throughout the novel, you can certainly feel for them as you see them react to and recoil from the truth.

Russell also creates a very believable and consistent alien society on Rakhat--one that makes sense. There are aliens that we also come to like and dislike as we arrive at an understanding of their society and motivations.

I really can't say heap much more praise on this novel. The unfortunate thing is that The Children of God has a tough act to follow--I suspect that it's nowhere near as good as THE SPARROW. But if it's only half as good, it will still be a decent novel. [-jak]

The answer to Joe's question above ("Will someone *please* tell me how this novel managed not to make the Hugo nominee list two years ago?") is that it wasn't marketed as science fiction and wasn't from one of the familiar sources of science fiction (e.g., Tor, St. Martin's), and since it was a first novel no one noticed it. Just about everyone I know who had read it before the nominations nominated it, but that wasn't a big enough group. [- ecl]

THE RED VIOLIN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

Capsule: More intricately plotted than the viewer at first expects, THE RED VIOLIN tells the history in episodes of a (fictional) legendary violin. This is a film that gets better as it goes along and presents the viewer with several interesting puzzles. The classical music that goes with the story is a definite plus. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

There are several different ways to write an anthology film, a film made up of several episodes. Some films manage to have the whole be greater than the sum of the parts. One that does rise well above the parts is this history of the Red Violin, a violin of astounding acoustical properties. Francois Girard, who directed, co-authored the screenplay with Don McKellar, who appears as a scientific violin expert. The two Canadian filmmakers previously worked together on THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD. While it is not true that each episode stands on its own as a good story, the combined film is actually quite well-written. The story is set at the Montreal auction of the violin and then flashes back over the history of the violin and its travels from Italy to Montreal.

ITALY: We have the greatest violinmaker of his day Nicolo Bussotti (played by Carlo Cecchi) of Cremona, Italy, creating a masterpiece of a violin to coincide with the birth of his first child. ITALY and AUSTRIA: A young boy Kaspar Weiss (Christoph Koncz) with a Mozart-like brilliance for music is taken from his home in Northern Italy and taken to Vienna where he will find that his greatest impediments are not in competition but in himself. AUSTRIA and ENGLAND: A band of gypsies plays the great violin for years without ever knowing its true value. ENGLAND: The Red Violin inspires a scoundrel (Jason Flemyng as Frederick Pope) to make great music, but Pope does not realize how dependent on it he becomes. CHINA: The political orthodoxy of the Cultural Revolution teaches a cadre the price of fanaticism and forces her to choose between love of the violin and her loyalty to the fanatic new brand of politics sweeping China. MONTREAL: An auction house prepares for a public sale of musical instruments acquired from the Chinese government.

Contrary to expectation the film is at its most interesting when it gets to the 20th Century. We have seen other films like THE BLUE KITE tell us how China allowed political fanaticism to impoverish and destroy the country, but this film makes the same point much more succinctly and at the same time plaintively. In the Montreal segment we get a tantalizing look at 20th century analysis of a 17th century musical instrument, from acoustics to chemical and even biological analysis. In addition the final segment answers several previously unanswered questions and fits some apparently disconnected pieces together. We get a much better understanding of the Red Violin, what makes it unique, and why is it red?

Don McKellar seems to be becoming as ubiquitous in Canadian film as Denholm Elliot used to be in British film. At the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival (where I could not get into THE RED VIOLIN) he seemed to be associated with one film after another. Here he writes, directs, and acts. Top billing goes to Samuel L. Jackson, whose role does not become important until the final segment of the film. There are few familiar actors to stretch the budget, but there is some nice location scenery. But what is really enjoyable, as one might suspect in a film about a great violin, is that the film has some really excellent violin music.

In short, people who are pleased with the current vogue to have arthouse films on the theme of behind the scenes looks at how classical music gets created, films like SHINE and HILARY AND JACKIE, films with potent samples of good music, should find THE RED VIOLIN an entertaining entry. I give it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. (Historical note: all characters, musical instruments, and events are fictional.) [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   HO 1K-644 732-817-5619

Quote of the Week:

    Ever consider what [dogs] must think of us?  I mean,
    here we come back from a grocery store with the
    most amazing haul -- chicken, pork, half a cow.
    They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth!
                                   -- Anne Tyler