MT VOID 05/25/01 (Vol. 19, Number 47)

MT VOID 05/25/01 (Vol. 19, Number 47)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/25/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 47

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.

Links to Hugo Nominees:

The last of this year's short fiction Hugo nominees has been put on-line; here is the complete list of URLs:


Valley Forge:

I was talking about my visit to Valley Forge where George Washington wintered his troops there the winter and spring of 1777 and 1778.

The real hero of the Valley Forge encampment was arguably not Washington but someone else who was an impostor who fooled Washington to get his job, but who was successful in it nonetheless. Baron von Steuben (pronounced STOY-bin) passed himself off as a Lieutenant General from the Prussian Army. In fact he was only a captain and may not have even been a baron. He nevertheless fooled Washington who, impressed with his credentials, had him appointed acting Inspector General and drillmaster for the Continental Army. All consider he did an excellent job of disciplining the troops and is generally credited with turning the sloppy soldiers into a disciplined and effective army. His frequent temper tantrums would come out as a strange mix of his native German. Nevertheless he was respected by the troops and Washington made von Steuben his Inspector General. The Prussian captain later wrote THE REGULATIONS FOR THE ORDER AND DISCIPLINE OF THE TROOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the official manual of military regulations. But then Washington would have been happy to have just about anybody replace his previous Inspector General. And thereby hangs a tale. It all had to do with the rarely acknowledged affair known as the "Conway Cabal." Washington apparently spent much of his time involved in the intrigues of the Conway Cabal.

Washington had a great deal of personal appeal to the people in the New Nation, but John Adams and his cousin Samuel Adams thought he was becoming a bit of a demagogue. They were strongly considering the advisability of replacing Washington as commander in chief and having General Horatio Gates replace him. Since the previous autumn Washington had been embroiled in an affair known as the Conway Cabal. Washington had been on the defensive at Brandywine and retreated when some in Congress thought he could have attacked. They also thought he squandered real opportunities at Germantown. So far the Northern Army had had greater successes against the British and it was claimed that Washington's timidity in the face of the enemy was to blame.

Gates had had a major victory against Burgoyne at Saratoga. Washington was a little short on major victories at this point. Thomas Conway, one of the heroes of Brandywine, who had seen at that battle the operations of Washington close up, had a very low opinion of Washington. He also may have been a very ambitious man. Conway told anyone who would listen about the miserable quality of Washington's leadership. Conway went official and asked Congress to make him a Major General. Washington, aware of the man's opinion, wrote to Congress disparaging Conway and threatening to resign if he had to work with the man.

Conway wrote a letter to General Gates telling him just what he thought were the deficiencies of George Washington. "Heaven has been determined to save our country; or a weak General and bad Councellors would have ruined it," Conway complained. He, however, left out one deficiency Washington had he may not have been aware of. It seems under proper conditions George Washington was not above reading other people's mail. A drunken aide to Gates, a man named Wilkinson, told of the contents of the letter and they got back to Washington. Gates found out that Conway's private letter to him had been copied and given to Washington. So he protested. John Adams found out about all the fighting and bickering and said he was "wearied to death with the wrangles between military commands high and low." "They quarrel like cats and dogs." (Of course, one is never sure how literally to take a complaint from John Adams. Adams was himself a Mozart of contentiousness and caustic overstatement.)

Washington had asked that an office be created, Inspector General, to work with him write a training manual and to teach recruits. Congress decided they had just the man for the position. Thomas Conway had been bucking for promotion. Let him and George Washington work together. On December 29 Conway arrived at Valley Forge. The two worked for a while together in icy disdain. They traded oral insults for a while. But in January Conway wrote an insulting letter to Washington and Washington wrote a cover letter and sent it to Congress. Gates wrote to Congress asking for an investigation on how his letter Conway had been "Stealingly copied" and given Washington. When he found out his aide Wilkinson had been the leak he challenged him to a duel. Luckily the aide declined. Gates and Conway next took their cause to Congress. General Lafayette waded in saying that the French considered Washington and the American Revolution inseparable and any removal of Washington from power would be cause for them to reconsider their support. Congress listened to Lafayette, could not afford to do without French support, and refused to listen to Gates and Conway. General Gates returned to his troops. Conway was given a demotion and transfer to the Hudson area where he soon resigned. Conway's office as Inspector General was replaced by von Steuben. [-mrl]

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

B>Capsule: An ogre with his donkey sidekick goes off on a quest to rescue a princess from a dragon. SHREK is a gem of writing and animation. Like an out-of-control fire hose, it blasts everyone and everything in reach, from Disney to professional wrestling, but is rarely mean-spirited. This is a film that will delight adults as well as children. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

SHREK is not so much a fairy tale as a meta-fairy-tale, an ambrosia of fairy tale conventions and scenes poking fun at (among other things) the conventions of fairy tales. It is a lot like THE PRINCESS BRIDE or Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS. Just about anything can get a good-natured jab from SHREK. Based on William Steig's book, the main character is an ogre likable to just about anyone but himself. Called upon to fight a dragon, he finds that his real enemy is more his low self-esteem. That is harder to dispense with than the fearsome beast. This sounds like it could be a dull object lesson but Shrek rings true as a character and believable visually on the screen. That is because both are essentially built in the same way. The animation build him up starting with an animated skeleton then fleshing out the character putting digital flesh on the bones. The character of Shrek was built the same, starting on the inside with basic strengths and vulnerabilities and building outward. The result is a character who is three-dimensional in multiple senses.

Those who believe that films are getting worse as time goes by would do well to concentrate on what is happening to the animated film. Sure not every animated film is great, but see how often we are now getting animated films that seem better than their predecessors are. We are getting films for which not only is the animation superior to that of any animated film more than a decade old, also frequently the story values are also superior to any of a decade before. Gone are the days of happy twittering bluebirds creating a new dress for the falsetto-voiced heroine while approving bunnies look on. SHREK, in fact, takes a well-aimed kick at the cliche of Walt Disney's bluebirds.

Shrek (voiced by Michael Myers) is an ogre living in a swamp, savoring his solitude, and frightening away all who trespass. Nearby Prince Farquaad (John Lithgow) is rounding up all of the magical creatures in the kingdom. A talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) escapes the prince and hides in the swamp begging the hospitality of Shrek. But he need not have bothered escaping. All the magical animals are dumped in the same swamp. This much company is too much for the ogre. With the unwelcome companionship of his new donkey friend he goes to confront the prince, only to end up being sent on a mission to rescue one Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of an angry dragon.

It has been a while since I have seen a current film in which a male has to go and rescue a female. I suppose that is a convention of the fairy tale. The script, however, does later make sure that audience knows she can take care of herself. This is another film that throws martial arts into a context where it does not seem to belong. I suppose that will not bother some viewers in a fantasy film, particularly because there are so many intentional anachronisms. The plot falters only when it takes a digression from the fairy tale plotline with a piece on a misunderstood conversation. That is not really the sort of plot complication that one usually finds in fairy tales and it does not quite seem to fit.

Problems remaining are few, but there are a few. The film makes a real effort to say that ogres should be tolerated even if they are not attractive, and so they should. That is a nice touch particularly after Disney so often makes the villain ugly or obnoxiously manly. But then the film turns around and repeatedly makes fun of Farquaad's short stature. This is at best a mixed signal and verges on hypocrisy. In addition, a pet peeve of mine is the use of big stars in animated films for box-office appeal. Any number of good unknowns could have taken the voice roles just as well as stars. Michael Myers is almost unrecognizable in a thick Scottish brogue in title role. Recognizing voices seems just a distraction in animated films.

Animation has reached a point where filmmakers do not have to be satisfied with whatever they can to the screen and that tells the story. Today styles of animation can be fit to the character. Some characters intentionally look like mechanical toys and others look very alive and fluid with very articulate facial expression. Like so many other animated films in the last few years, this one sets an animation standard high for films that will follow. The field of animation right now is in its phase of flowering. Right now we are having a Golden Age of animated film techniques. Films with better scripts and better animation than ever before seem not to be uncommon. SHREK is a step forward. SHREK is a family film that parents will probably appreciate more than their children do. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    The problem with turning 50 is that dying is about
    the only thing left that people can be surprised
    that you did so young.
                                   -- Mark Leeper