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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/22/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 25
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.
For those of you who track such things and want to save a little money on the second most overpriced common stationary item, calendars, I pass along the following information. The year 2001 is a non-leap-year starting on a Monday. The most recent identical year was 1990 if you want to recycle an old calendar. If not, you can, as you can any year, use May of the previous year for January. Then about mid- to late January you can get a new calendar at a half or a quarter of what they cost now. (The most overpriced common stationary item is the greeting card.) [-mrl]
THE SMOKY GOD:
On a weekly basis I check out the new entries listed for on-line books at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/new.html> http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/new.html. These are books that are free for the downloading. Mostly they are older books whose copyright has run out. Frequently they are books of some interest to me like the memoirs of Confederate guerrilla John Singleton Mosby or an account of some explorer. They have some fantasy like an on-line copy of THE MOON POOL by A. Merritt, for example. The URLs listed at the end of this article specialize in fantastical texts available free. In a recent week the new entry puzzled me. The book was a 1908 short novel THE SMOKY GOD: A VOYAGE TO THE INNER WORLD. The first thing I thought of was that was some sort of metaphysical claptrap. Though there was some chance the title implied that it was an adventure story about going to some underground civilization. Another of my likes is early proto-science-fiction. This could be some novel along the lines of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Around the turn of the century there was an audience for lost race stories. These were adventures where people set out to explore some mysterious unknown part of the world and found a lost race of people dating back to the Egyptians or something similar. Perhaps the best known writer of lost race stories was H. Rider Haggard, and the best known lost race story was probably his SHE.
The author of THE SMOKY GOD: A VOYAGE TO THE INNER WORLD was Willis George Emerson. I looked up the phrase "The Smoky God" and Emerson in a search engine and found entries that listed him were some sort of hollow-earth society. That was good news and bad news. It really did concern some sort of inner world, but it also suggested the book might be some sort of pseudo-scientific tract that was intended to be taken seriously. I looked at the page and found that THE SMOKY GOD was recommended side-by-side with AT THE EARTH'S CORE by Edgar Rice Burroughs. That was all it took to satisfy me that it was intended to be in fun and not to convince me of the society's weird theories. I went to http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=3007 and downloaded a copy. When I got a copy I looked up THE SMOKY GOD in Sam Moskowitz's history of early science fiction EXPLORERS OF THE INFINITE. He missed this one. Even the fairly complete Donald H. Tuck's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION missed it, but Clute and Nicholl's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION did list Willis George Emerson and this book. Emerson apparently mostly wrote Westerns, and this was his foray into the world of fantasy. It is kind of fun. Not a full novel, about 18,000 words. It is more a long story than a novel.
The author claims to have known an old Norwegian sailor Olaf Jensen who worshipped Norse gods. Jensen claimed there was a world within our world. On his deathbed Jensen leaves the author a manuscript. The manuscript turns out to be a memoir of a voyage.
In 1829 during his youth Olaf goes on a fishing expedition with his father into the frozen north. To their surprise they discover it is not so frozen. They find an area of warmer fresh water further north. They decide to follow this water north to the North Pole. They steer by the pole star. One day they notice a second sun in the sky, a smoky red ball. They figure it is an optical effect and it will soon fade.
The red sun gets brighter instead of dimmer and soon it is always blazing overhead. They find land that looks like Norway and which they later find out is called Hiddekel. The people are a race of bearded giants, twelve feet tall.
The cities are lit by something that in his later days Olaf guessed was electricity. But there is always light from the red sphere in the sky. The "immutable laws of gravity" keep the glowing red sphere in place. Olaf sees some futuristic inventions and some large versions of animals on the surface. I suppose it could be more imaginative.
He has some further adventures on the trip back to his own world. It is a long way from deathless prose, but it seems to have been lost in time. People who like to read the old stuff, the science fiction that pre-dates even the term "science fiction" my find the story of more than passing interest.
People interested in finding sites for downloadable fantastic literature can find it at the following sites:
And online books in general at
THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The Disney animation factory tells a story of its own invention set in pre-Columbian Peru. A selfish young emperor is turned into a llama. Taken far from his palace he goes on an odyssey to return to his home and win back his throne from an evil pretender. The story and the characters are likable, and for once Disney is not trying to impress with cutting edge animation techniques. While is it no BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, it is both fun and funny with a couple of good lessons for kids hidden behind the entertainment. And how many films can you name set in pre-Columbian Peru? Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
What would the holiday season be without a new animated film from Disney? This outing rather than taking some classic story and inaccurately making it into a film, they have taken their own story setting it in Peru vaguely sometime before Columbus came to the New World. The Emperor Kuzco (voiced by Saturday Night Live veteran David Spade) has been particularly cruel to a well-meaning lug of a peasant Pacha (John Goodman). Kuzco may not have a shred of meanness in his body but the also does not have a scrap of empathy or kindness. What does have is an ambitious and evil adviser, Yzma (the great Eartha Kitt). Yzma tries to poison Kuzco in order to take his place but instead accidentally turns him into a llama and then loses him. Kuzco find himself alone and friendless except for the peasant he has mistreated. He finds it a rocky friendship but one he comes to depend on.
As Disney animated films go this is not the best, but definitely not the worst. The script does not go into the characters as much as it might, choosing instead to keep the script denser in humor. Wait long enough and the relationship between Kuzco and Pacha will become surprisingly touching. The choice of setting is one that has rarely been used for film and one that the younger members of the audience might not immediately recognize or understand. It may provide a good opportunity for parents to give their children a history lesson, if indeed the parents understand it themselves. Of course the history must not be taken too seriously either. The script mixes its cultures a little too much having in one scene a Mexican piata party. One of Sting's forgettable songs incorrectly refers to this part of the world as "Meso-America." John Goodman is a little large and plump to play an Inca. Incas were probably short and certainly not heavy. The script manages to avoid having anything larger than a ladybug die in the course of the story. The most frightening scenes are not of violence, but of dangers of falling from great heights. Then again, this is Peru and you expect great altitudes. The religious right may object to a usually likable gay character, even if he is the conflicted henchman of the villain. Those who would ban books like Harry Potter and THE WIZARD OF OZ may be unhappy that magic has an effect in this film; though they may take consolation in that it seems never to be the effect intended.
This film does push what were at least of few years ago limits. For most of the film Pacha's wife is noticeably pregnant. And in spite of the fact she seems content to be what we would call "a housewife," she proves herself more than match for some powerful baddies. Most of Disney's best villains have been women so they have never held back from allowing women to be villains, though usually they are uglier and older women and this film is not really an exception. The corpulent hero is, however, something of a change for Disney.
For once the animation techniques do not run away with the show. There are no scenes that are anywhere near a breath-taking as the opening of THE LION KING. Most of the animation seems fairly flat and old-fashioned. This is Mark Dindal's second outing as director. His previous effort was CATS DON'T DANCE for Turner Broadcasting. He did previously direct for Disney the animation sequences for the under-rated THE ROCKETEER. The music is by John Debney and David Hartley. Sting wrote the songs and is apparently unhappy that some of his songs were dropped. He might have a point. The songs dropped could easily have been better than the boring place-holder songs that were not dropped. At least I think they were boring place-holder songs, admittedly not much about the songs comes to my mind at the moment. When Disney Studios said that they mourned the loss of Alan Menken, it was with only the best of reasons.
As animated films go, this one is above average, but it will probably not be a Disney classic. I give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor 2000, Hardcover, $23.95, 334pp, ISBN 0-312-86713-1) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
My first exposure to CALCULATING GOD came at a teeny tiny regional convention in Columbus, Ohio in October of 1999 called Context. My wife and I had used the weekend as a short getaway without the kids for a few days, with the main attraction being Rob Sawyer as Guest of Honor. He read the first chapter to a small group of us on Saturday afternoon, I believe. My wife and I were both taken by the story immediately, and we discussed later that day how we couldn't wait for the novel to be published. That first chapter was witty, engaging, and interesting.
The story starts with an alien ship landing just outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and its inhabitant, a spider-shaped critter, walks in to the museum and asks to see a paleontologist (As an example of the humor and wit evident here, later on the alien is told that he should be asking to be taken to our leader, because, after all, that's how it's done. The alien, Hollus, replies that he thinks he has rather more experience in these matters than the earthers do.). The upshot is that Hollus wants to look at some of our fossils and the like in order to help prove that God exists. Well, the aliens believe, you see, that God definitely exists--science has proven it. It seems that the universe is the way it is due to the design of some intelligence who has created it just so, and has been nursing it along to the stage it is today. For example, Earth, the planet of the Forhilnors (Hollus' race), and the planet of the Wreeds (another race of beings along for the ride in Hollus' parent craft) have all experienced mass extinctions at exactly the same time in history, the most recent being 65 million years ago. Obviously, that can be considered a coincidence. But Hollus has what he (eventually we find out he is a she) claims is overwhelming evidence for God, including, if I remember correctly, something to do with the Grand Unification Theory, and similar DNA among the three races.
Our human paleontologist, Dr. Thomas Jericho, doesn't believe in God. Furthermore, as with protagonists in other Sawyer novels, Jericho is saddled with a deadly disease, in this case lung cancer, contracted from all the stuff he's been breathing over the years he's been a paleontologist. Jericho is married, and has an adopted son. The combination of the aliens' belief that God exists (the Wreeds claim there is evidence to prove it as well), his family, and his cancer, eventually cause Jericho to wrestle with his beliefs (or lack thereof), as we might expect.
This novel is pretty much what I've come to expect from Sawyer: it's got more ideas than it has room for (not necessarily a bad thing), it's not the kind of book that makes you work at reading it, and it's fairly fast paced. All of these are good things, I think. In comparison to his other novels, I think it most closely compares to ILLEGAL ALIEN. Indeed, like that novel, it seems ripe for a Hollywood treatment (I do believe I read somewhere that someone, maybe even Sawyer himself, was working on the screenplay for ILLEGAL ALIEN, but don't hold me to that one.). If it has a downside, I would say that I would have liked it to pursue the God idea a whole lot more than it did. There is some discussion about the nature of God, but it's not until very late in the novel that we encounter a being that just may be God.
CALCULATING GOD is a novel that raises a good deal of questions about the relationship between God and science, and makes us think about things we may normally not want to think about. Whether or not you're a believer in some Higher Being, I think you'll find this novel thought-provoking. [-jak]
Quote of the Week:
The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things other people think about us. -- Quentin Crisp