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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 09/10/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 11
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
There are those among us, myself included, who felt that the fall of the Soviet Union would be a marvelous defeat of the forces of tyranny in the world. Indeed many of us thought that the New World Order might well spell the beginning of an end to oppression altogether. But we may have been wrong to count out dictatorships and tyrannies. Oppressive governments around the world are moving into the 21st century with greater skill and stealth than we imagined. The forces of oppression have a greater fighting spirit and are more willing to do what needs to be done to win the game than the forces opposing them.
I think that among the people who have underestimated the forces of tyranny are the East Timorese. Many of them went ahead and voted with total impunity for independence from Indonesia. What we are seeing in East Timor is that tyranny is showing a new vigor and vitality--a determination to win at all costs. It is doing the right sort of things to maintain power. It is the UN forces that are being made to look foolish as they back out of the area leaving it to the terrorist militias. The forces employing the terrorist militias are playing a smart game and may well be the winners. I think that other tyrannies around the world owe the Indonesian government a debt of admiration and gratitude. The lessons of East Timor will not be lost on voters around the world who are considering issues of freedom. [-mrl]
Recently I saw a documentary on propaganda cartoons from the American film industry during World War II. One interesting fact having little to do with their main topic is that Warner Brothers Cartoons from the likes of Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett consider themselves to be very secondary to Disney Studios. They thought their material was second class and that Disney was the first class animated film studio. They saw a Disney cartoon where Mickey Mouse talked to the audience--breaking "the fourth wall" as it is called. Well they thought, we can do it too. I don't know what cartoon Disney did it with but it became almost a Warner Brothers trademark. But, and here's the point, there are only a relative few fans left of the cartoons they were copying. Disney feature films are remembered, but few of his short cartoons have nearly so effectively engrained themselves on the public conscious. Now there is more than one reason for that. Disney Studios still keeps tight hold on their product as their nest egg. But how many of us really want to see old Mickey Mouse cartoons? They were just not creative enough. On the other hand Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are the classics that we remember today. Chuck Jones is really remembered as THE comic genius of cartoons. Yet he always thought his stuff was second rate. Kids today grow up with his cartoons that were already old when their parents grew up with them. There may still be a market for 40s and 50s Donald duck and Mickey Mouse cartoons, but not much of one. But the cheap imitation has turned out to be the classic.
Until late in his life Buster Keaton thought of himself as a failure. He had made some comedies in the silent days and for a while felt pretty good about them but when sound film came in he went out. His style of comedy did not go very well with sound. James Mason bought a house that was once owned by Keaton and found a whole trove of Keaton's old films rotting in an old shed. He asked Keaton if he wanted them and Keaton decided he did. Late in his life Keaton was asked to go to the Venice Film Festival to talk about his films. He could not imagine anybody would know much more than who he was. Instead he got the loudest and longest applause that anyone ever had gotten at the film festival.
Something very similar happened with film director Jack Arnold. He spent some time working for Universal Studios in the 1950s. They gave him the choice of working on Westerns or on science fiction. He picked science fiction because he did not know anything about handling horses. He made a handful of low-budget B-pictures before he moved on to other work elsewhere. The science fiction stuff was not even what he thought of first when he thought of the films he made. Late in life he discovered that there were people out there who talked admiringly about "the Jack Arnold science fiction film." His films like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, TARANTULA, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON were considered to be classics.
I guess there is no special point except that when you do something due to constraints on you that you think is second-rate, very often other people may not perceive it that way. [-mrl]
FLASHFORWARD by Robert J. Sawyer (1999, Tor, 319 pp, HC, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-86712-3) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, what would you do if you caught a two-minute glimpse of your life 21 years into the future? It depends, doesn't it? Are you still married to the person you are now? Did you see the stock market prices for that day? Are you even still alive? How is your family? Your company? Did you invent something new?
No, I didn't think of these things myself. I'm not that smart. Rob Sawyer thought of these things. I just read them. The question I asked at the top of the review is the central theme of Sawyer's newest novel, FLASHFORWARD. The setting is the CERN research facility in Switzerland, and researchers there are attempting to find the Higgs Boson particle. Well, the high energy experiment which was supposed to produce the particle had a very weird and unexpected side-effect: humanity dipped into unconsciousness for something close to two minutes, during which people caught a glimpse of themselves 21 years in the future. Of course, the other side effect was that many folks were killed or injured during the flashforward, because, for instance, if you're driving a car at high speeds and go unconscious for 2 minutes ... well, you get the idea.
The rest of the novel is spent exploring the question of what would happen if humanity knew its future. We of course have our two main characters, Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides, whose visions cause them great consternation, to say the least. The novel spends a great deal of time following the paths that those two take. And while those are interesting, the more interesting things about the novel are the various ideas that Sawyer proposes as a result of seeing the future. Start with the list of questions in the first paragraph, and keep thinking. You'll be amazed at stuff you never thought of before. While you're letting your mind wander, think about politics and religion, because both of those have a stake in this too.
But as with any other Sawyer novel, eventually the Big Ideas kick in. Is the future fixed, thus rendering the concept of free will meaningless? How is consciousness related to quantum physics? And what does Schroedinger's Cat have to do with any of this (think about *that* one for awhile)? FLASHFORWARD certainly isn't as densely packed with ideas the way that FACTORING HUMANITY was, but it'll do quite nicely.
As usual, Sawyer has also written a novel that's not going to take up all your time, energy, and strength to read. It's a compelling read without being the world's largest novel-doorstop. And yet, it's very straightforward and enjoyable. Your head may hurt after the idea dump (as with any other Sawyer novel), but it's a good hurt.
I've always said that the best SF novels deal with the effect of technology on humanity, and how humanity deals with technology. FLASHFORWARD is a perfect example. I highly recommend it. [-jak]
Hugo Awards (1999):
Best Novel: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, Connie Willis Best Novella: "Oceanic", Greg Egan (ASIMOV'S, Aug 1998) Best Novelette: "Taklamakan", Bruce Sterling (ASIMOV'S, Oct/Nov 1998) Best Short Story: "The Very Pulse of the Machine", Michael Swanwick (ASIMOV'S, Feb 1998) Best Related Book: THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF: HOW SCIENCE FICTION CONQUERED THE WORLD, Thomas M. Disch Best Dramatic Presentation: THE TRUMAN SHOW Best Professional Editor: Gardner Dozois Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton Best Semiprozine: LOCUS, Charles N. Brown, ed. Best Fanzine: "Ansible", Dave Langford, ed. Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford Best Fan Artist: Ian Gunn John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Nalo Hopkinson
Mark Leeper HO 1K-644 732-817-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:[Democracy is] the blugeoning of the people, by the people, for the people. -- Oscar Wilde