MT VOID 06/01/01 (Vol. 19, Number 48)

MT VOID 06/01/01 (Vol. 19, Number 48)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/01/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 48

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.


In this issue I review PEARL HARBOR, which l liked considerably better than most of the critics. I do not think it affected my judgement, but it would be hard for me not to like a film in which the main character is a man who loves flying and who folds origami to win a beautiful and very capable woman named Evelyn. [-mrl]

Time and Age:

The people who attend or support the World Science Fiction Convention each year get with their membership the right to vote on the Hugo Award, the equivalent of the Academy Award for the field of science fiction. As is appropriate to science fiction, this year they are voting on the Hugos for two different years. The has been a move of late to fill in Hugo Awards for some of the early years that science fiction was popular but for which there were no awards. That is sort of appropriate, I guess. We are supposed to vote as if we were from that year but came to this year via time machine, a process that seems more appropriate to the Hugo than to just about any other award. This year the attendees are voting on awards for science fiction from the year 2000 and from the year 1950. To this end I am reading Isaac Asimov's 1950 novel PEBBLE IN THE SKY, which is one of the five novels which have been nominated for a retro-Hugo.

PEBBLE IN THE SKY was written after the novellas that comprise FOUNDATION and FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE. It is actually the first real novel that Asimov wrote that fits into his "Foundation" series, though perhaps only for one minor passing reference to Trantor. In this book a middle-aged man is catapulted into the far future when there is a galactic civilization and nobody is quite sure any more even what planet mankind started on. Also fitting into the plot is the age of the man sent. He is about to turn sixty. That would have seemed very old, indeed, if I had read this book first as a teenager. These days it does not seem so old. But the time traveler mentions he is going to turn sixty. The question that pops into my mind is how will he know when it happens. One of the things that become much more difficult for a time traveler is determining his own exact age.

First, we have to discuss what it means to be a certain age if you happen not to be a time traveler. Well, the way we tell age on Earth is purely by counting birthdays. Age in years is actually is an imprecise measure of age since not all years are the same length. Sometimes we throw in leap-days. We have even been known to add leap seconds. This makes for a very faulty measuring stick and you run into the quite possible problem that if the days fall right you can be 26 and be marginally older than your father was at a time when he was already 27. You may have lived through one more leap-day than he did. In our calendar it cannot be a big difference, but it happens. The problem is also complicated by this age of fast travel. Even on a 24-hour clock, if you move westward time slows for you a little, at least in the regard that a day can last longer than 24 hours.

Things are even more mishugah in the Hebrew calendar in which you have entire leap months. There you can turn 27 and be several days older than your father was when he turned 27. And the day before that you were 26 but older than your father was at 27. And forget what happens if you measure on two different calendars. Then the number you use for your age can be really confused. This is particularly true if one of the calendars is the Muslim calendar. The year on the Muslim calendar is not even the length of a solar year on the average. That means that your birthday moves around the solar year and falls in different seasons. I am not an expert on this subject but I think that means the number of years since the founding of Islam is significantly different in the Muslim calendar and in ours. They are measuring in different length years.

This is complicated enough, but it becomes even more so when you add the concept of time travel, as Asimov does in PEBBLE IN THE SKY. I suppose the main character could with some justification claim to be many thousands of years old since he was born thousands of years earlier. But counting that way would mean that if he had gone back in time rather than forward he would be a negative age. This is not a useful measure of his age.

What you would want is that at birth a clock be started for him and tied to his hip. It would remain in the same frame of reference that he does. Then every 31,557,600 seconds in his frame you would say he is a year older. But assume that he was to have such a clock. When he moves forward in time he is unlikely to move some whole number of years forward. That would mean that his hip clock would no longer click to a new year on his birthday. He would essentially have two different birthdays, one the date on which he was born and the other when he is an even multiple of the length of a year. For a person who had time traveled a lot, like maybe the people in another of Asimov's novels, THE END OF ETERNITY, the effort to figure his age would soon be not worth the effort. Presumably he would have lived through fractions of days. If you time travel a lot in your job, you probably have completely lost track of how many hours old you are and you never would know when to say you were now a year older. [-mrl]

PEARL HARBOR (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Flawed? Perhaps. Bad? Perhaps not. The story is simplistic, but not unwatchable. Close friends separated by a love triangle are brought back together by a higher cause and their mutual love of flying. The story is told against the backdrop of the Japanese sneak attack that brought the US into World War II. The film features some nice visuals and some good special effects used imaginatively. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)

Months ago the trailer for PEARL HARBOR intrigued me. Then I got a rude shock at the end that it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay. Bruckheimer is the king of sound and fury action film blockbusters. Michael Bay was his director on THE ROCK and ARMAGEDDON. PEARL HARBOR got some really negative critical response prior to its release. This may have lowered my expectations, but I really do not see what the fuss was about. I would probably call PEARL HARBOR a flawed film, but not a bad one. Its historical accuracy is better than many films set in the past but still worse than some. PEARL HARBOR suffers a great deal from comparison to TORA! TORA! TORA!, one of the finest and most accurate films about World War II and the classic account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The plot is a somewhat mythic story (some might call it "cliched") of two close friends who fall out when they innocently both come to love the same woman. Then they have their relationship patched up when they face a cause more important than their differences.

PEARL HARBOR is the story of two men, friends since their boyhood in Tennessee. Rafe McCawley (played by Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) have a friendship based on each's love of airplanes and flight. They join the Army Air Corps together and during the physical Rafe falls for an attractive nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Evelyn quickly becomes the second love in Rafe's life; flying remains the first. Even as he woos her, giving her origami birds, flying is never far from his mind. (Origami is ironically a Japanese art.) When Rafe gets an opportunity to fly with the RAF he takes it leaving Danny and Evelyn behind. Then he is shot down and thought to be dead the predictable love triangle is set in motion.

The casting of PEARL HARBOR, like most aspect of the film is flawed. Affleck is hardly the most charismatic lead, but here he flies rings around the low-key Hartnett. Beckinsale is a good actor, probably most familiar for her role in COLD COMFORT FARM. John Voight's face is just enough wrong for FDR to be irksome, like a musical note played just slightly off-key. Mako, of the Conan movies, somehow plays a very different type of officer from how we are used to seeing Yamamoto from films like TORA! TORA! TORA! and MIDWAY. Alec Baldwin plays a somewhat idealized Doolittle while Dan Aykroyd, looking a little fat, is a navy intelligence officer.

It is, perhaps, unfair to compare TORA! TORA! TORA! too closely with PEARL HARBOR. The former is an attempt at a very accurate representation; the latter is a polished and soft focus love story told against a backdrop of America's entry into the war. It might be more accurate to compare it to HANOVER STREET, even with the big spectacular set piece of the half-hour of film devoted to an attack that was only about an hour long in real life. Bay uses time to show the viewer a lot of different scenes of the destruction and how the Americans fought back.

PEARL HARBOR is a film that has an extremely nice look. The cinematography seems far better than the writing. It is one of those films in which you could take a frame from one of any number of the scenes and use it for a poster for the film. The frame composition is often beautiful and occasionally even a little too perfect and overly dramatic. Early in the film Bay captures a very nice 1941 feel and then drenches the scenes in a rich blue to top off the image. The viewer can frequently tell the CGI from reality, but when it is following a bomb from the moment it is dropped down into a compartment in a battleship, at least it is an imaginative use. At another point two sailors on a scaffold on the side of a battleship see a torpedo approaching below them and hitting their boat. In another interesting usage of the visual effects a nurse is slowly overcome by the horror of the casualties she is seeing she enters a state of shock. The camera shows this by leaving her in focus and selectively loses focus on her surroundings. These are scenes that could never have been shown even in a TORA! TORA! TORA!

The style of PEARL HARBOR is spotty. While the film shows half an hour of unremitting violence, it is fairly reserved in its showing of blood and there is no visible dismemberment, unlike SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Only the hospital scenes show serious carnage. The dogfight scenes seem a little too much like a video game. And the rock song over the end credits was horribly out of place and will be an embarrassment when this film is seen again in years to come.

Pearl Harbor is over three hours long, but is always worth watching, if not worth listening to. The film had undeniable problems, but it was released needing only a fine tuning not the overhaul must critics are implying is called for. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    Men are from Earth.  Women are from Earth.  Live with it.
                                   -- Betty Friedan