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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/27/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 4
Table of Contents
There are words and phrases that get misused in our society because they are so powerful. This is language to conjure with. Words like "genocide" and "racism" often get applied to situations where the speaker or writer wants to make a point and chooses to exaggerate. We have been sensitized that when words like these are used. Someone uses them and we listen up and take notice, just the effect the speaker or writer is hoping for. I would like to add to this list of words that get wrongly overused the phrase "New York Style Cheesecake." These are words with a sacred meaning and not everybody who uses them really thinks about the implications.
Everybody has a certain image of New York Style Cheesecake. It is sort of sacred. With the possible exception of Miami Style Cheesecake it is the best thing you can say about cheesecake. There are other places in the country and indeed the world where you can get decent cheesecake. And not everybody who makes cheesecake in Miami or New York really does it right. But these two cities are the homes of the great cheesecake makers. What Shaolin was to martial arts, New York and Miami are to cheesecake making.
Not only are the great cheesecake makers located in these two cities, the great cheesecake connoisseurs are in these cities also. Not everybody who eats cheesecake really understands cheesecake. Yes, of course even in these two cities there are people do who think that putting pineapple pie filling on top of a cheesecake or mixing chocolate into cheesecake is a "pretty good idea." But there are a lot of people in these cities who know better. It is like putting chocolate frosting on Beluga Caviar.
The worship of cheesecake is, I suppose, a sort of religion and New York and Miami are the Mecca and Medina of that religion. I guess the biggest difference between cheesecake fandom and a religion is that you can convert to other religions and people do, but cheesecake lovers tend to be cheesecake lovers for life. Religions have a history of comparative tolerance for people of other faiths, but cheesecake lovers have never shown a propensity for tolerance for someone who would put lemon custard on cheesecake. And it must be admitted the truth is that someone who would mix chocolate into real cheesecake or put lemon custard or pineapple on the top deserves no tolerance.
New York Cheesecake is this stuff made with cream cheese, cholesterol-filled eggs, and sugar. There is absolutely no concession to health. This is a dessert for people who have not been cowed into submission by the medical authorities. This is the dessert for people who like living on the edge. Its fans are people who know not the meaning of fear. If you want to turn it into a healthy food, I don’t know, take a multi-vitamin with it. Cheesecake is true hedonism without apologies.
This morning I saw on my box of Weetabix a recipe for "’New York Style Cheesecake’ made with Weetabix." Think about it. "’New York Style Cheesecake’ made with Weetabix." The phrase is at best an oxymoron and more likely an abomination. I can picture some benighted soul being misinformed by the Weetabix box, meeting a real New York style cheesecake baker at work and (breaking in when the angels are between songs) asking him "But where is the Weetabix?" Gag me with a Baby Watson Cheesecake.
I recently saw an ad for Cheesecake City in Berkeley, California. It claims to have the best cheesecake in the country. Let me be fair. I would love to live in California. Overall Californians have some of the best things in the world. But after living in California I can tell you that California cheesecake is like California squirrels. They look like perfectly good squirrels, particularly if you grew up in California and do not know the difference. But a New Englander knows better. California squirrels are OK, but they just do not have the magnificent fluffy tails that East Coast squirrels have. East Coast squirrels are the best tails I have seen anywhere. And I suspect the same goes for East Coast cheesecake. I would expect the Berkeley has perfectly good cheesecake, but a good New York cheesecake baker has nothing to worry about. Oh, Cheesecake City also lists in their ads New York Style Cheesecake with fruit on top. That is heresy. Also Super Fudge Chunk Cheesecake. The mind boggles. I guess some people cannot take the pleasure of real New York Cheesecake at its full strength and have to dilute it with chocolate fudge. [-mrl]
THE HUMAN VAPOR (American version 1964) (re-edited from GASU NINGEN DAIICHIGO (1960)) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Toho Films of Japan made this story of a man who could change from solid to gas and back. While the English- language version is hard to find and badly edited, it is a more accomplished story than some of Toho's later and better- known films. It makes for a decidedly offbeat science fiction film. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4) This review contains plot spoilers.
Toho Films, probably the premier film company of Japan, is probably best known for their Godzilla films and some of the finest Samurai films. In the late 1950s they produced at least four science fiction films on the subject of humans who could change their physical properties. For some reason they are each also crime films in addition to being on a science fiction theme. They made a film in 1954 called THE TRANSPARENT MAN, but it is very hard to find in this country. Humans turn into a sentient viscous fluid in THE H MAN. THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN features a man who can transform himself into electronic impulses and transmit himself where he wants to go, not unlike the later British film THE PROJECTED MAN. The man in THE HUMAN VAPOR, their fourth film, has the power to go back and forth into a state like water vapor. He can make himself invisible, he can fit through small spaces and he can ride the wind.
While THE HUMAN VAPOR did get a 1964 release in the United States on a double feature with another very different Japanese science fiction film, GORATH, it is almost unknown in this country. It also is a film that is about themes that most American mass audiences cannot appreciate. A large part of the motivation of the main character is his desire support a famous classical dancer and to help her to reach perfection in her art. Americans understand lust as a motive, or love, but it is very hard for us to accept that someone can respect an art like classical dance to such an extent that it becomes his primary motivation. I have always interpreted the story of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that the Phantom is not physically attracted to Christine Daae but instead believes through her he can potentially create a perfect operatic voice. This is just not a theme that Americans seem to appreciate, but it is easy to believe that the Japanese would accept this motivation more easily.
Perhaps another reason this film is not frequently shown is the fact it is Japanese with a title almost suggesting it is about people vaporized by a nuclear explosion, making THE HUMAN VAPOR further seem like it will be an unpleasant film to watch. However the American edition does more to make the film unpleasant than anything in the plot. In any case THE HUMAN VAPOR was poorly dubbed, poorly edited, and poorly distributed. For most American fans of Japanese science fiction films it was unavailable or showed up very rarely on late movies.
In addition the film has been crudely re-edited for American audiences. The Japanese editing is far superior. The plot of the Japanese version has the police facing some crimes that are baffling to them and to the audience. Slowly they track down the culprit who has the strange ability to turn into a gas and return to human form. The American version begins by telling the secret to the audience, robbing the film of much of its suspense. It also appears the Japanese version lavishes much more footage on the Japanese dance sequences. These are very transparently chopped down for American consumption. The American editor has done everything possible to dumb-down what looks like a fine and subtle film for an American audience.
In the American editing, the film begins with Mizuno (played by Yoshio Tsuchiya) granting an interview with a newspaper. It is clear he knows that this meeting is a trap for the police to catch him, but he has no fear of the police and he wants to tell his story. He then tells how he became the Human Vapor in flashback. He had originally been a test pilot or astronaut, but was washed out for health reasons. Embittered, instead he takes a job as a librarian. A mysterious scientist, Dr. Sano (Fuyuki Murakami), seeks him out wanting to use him as the subject of an experiment. Sano lies about the purpose of the experiment, and Mizuno agrees to participate without question. Mizuno is locked in a chamber and appears to be reduced to a coma. When he awakes he finds he has "become the Human Vapor," a man who can at will turn his body into a gas and return it to its solid form. He discovers Sano has performed the experiment several times, but that he was the first test subject who has lived. In a rage Mizuno kills Sano.
Mizuno turns to a life of crime, robbing banks. However, he announces the crimes ahead of time, in order to save lives. He clearly has no fear that the police can stop him. If someone does try to stop him he can use his powers to make himself invisible, he can escape from the bank through any tiny hole, and he can float into the sky and ride the winds. This makes him almost impossible to kill. The police track stolen money to a famous classical dancer Fujichiyo Kasuga (Kaoru Yachigusa) and her instructor (the miserable looking Somesho Matsumoto). Police detective Okamoto (Tatsuya Mihashi), who has been leading the investigation of the mysterious crime wave, discovers that Mizuno has been supporting Fujichiyo. Okamoto uses her as bait for a trap to catch Mizuno.
The special effects are minimal by modern standards, using mostly animation and/or smoke to show the presence of the vapor man. He will appear as a suit of clothing with smoke rising from it. It is not clear that smoke could hold up a suit of clothing, but it looks good on the screen. Throughout the 1950s Toho science fiction had used more intelligence than money to create their special effects. The American version threw out the Japanese musical score for the film and instead uses pieces of Paul Sawtell's score for THE FLY (1958). Veteran actor James Hong dubs Mizuno.
THE HUMAN VAPOR can hardly be considered a classic of science fiction, but it certainly has its rewards and is worth seeking out. I would rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SKY ROAD by Ken MacLeod (TOR, 1999, $24.95 HC, 291pp, ISBN 0-312-87335-2) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Finally, something that Evelyn Leeper and I agree on. You see, Evelyn and I absolutely do not have the same taste in sf novels. We agreed on that over breakfast one morning at Worldcon last year. And more evidence was presented a few weeks back when Evelyn stated that her choice for the Hugo for Best Novel this year was HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, which I panned in my last review.
In that same article, Evelyn, as I remember, stated she couldn't get through THE SKY ROAD by Ken MacLeod. At about that time I had just begun THE SKY ROAD (yes, it took me *that* long to read it, and more time than in should have to get around to writing the book review), and I thought to myself, "here we go again - this novel is really starting out great." I found it engaging, and I really didn't see where it was going. I was anxious to get to the end.
It didn't go anywhere.
The story follows two different characters on two different fronts. The first is Clovis, an historian working in the spaceship construction yard. It will be the first ship to be launched in decades. The second is Myra Godwin, the Deliverer, the woman who apparently brought the world, more or less, to the state it's in. That state is total disarray. The political landscape looks different from today's. Technology is in the hands of the tinkers, whom you and I would call engineers. They know all the secrets, and are looked upon with distrust. The United States has been broken apart into several regions (near as I can tell, anyway), and the rest of the world is messed up too, although I gather that Great Britain is still roughly intact (although I suppose that makes sense because MacLeod is from Scotland).
I'm going to step back for a minute and say that I think I've come into the latest book in a series. If I am, the first thing that says to me is that I'm completely uninformed these days, and the second thing that says is that I feel cheated that I have to have read another book in the series to appreciate this one.
Anyway, Clovis meets Merrial, a tinker who wants to take advantage of his historical knowledge and university connections to try to find out the dirty secrets of the Deliverer (and in the meantime, convert him to tinkerism, as it were). Myra is the head of a dying political state, which is beset by economic problems and political unrest.
Did I mention there was a spaceship involved? What about the spaceship???? It really has a small role in this novel, and that ticked me off, too. If this is the first spaceship to fly since the time of the Possession (that's our time, folks, because we have a lot of possessions), why aren't we focusing more on it?
There's a military artificial intelligence involved, by the way, and it has its own plans for what's going to happen, but those plans certainly aren't revealed in this book, which is another reason I believe that I got stuck in the middle of a series.
And for some reason, MacLeod felt compelled to turn back the clock on everything that we've learned about some bad habits that a great deal of humanity had: smoking, drinking, etc. As a matter of fact, he goes out of the way to say that the physicians of the day had said that indeed it was healthy to do all that stuff.
I wish I could go on to summarize, at least at a high level, what happened in the novel. But I can't, mostly because I found myself so disinterested in it that I really didn't care to pay that much attention, I guess. The characters were uninteresting, the story uncompelling, and the sfnal bits, like the AI, life extensions, etc., did nothing to enhance the story within the context of this particular novel.
Anyway, as if you couldn't tell, I didn't like it. Maybe in the context of the rest of the novels in the series (if there is a series) it's a good story, but on its own it fails. [-jak]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy. -- Ambrose Bierce
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