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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/19/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 42
Table of Contents
Damon Knight Obituary:
Damon Knight died 14 April 2002 at the age of 80. He was the author of many short stories (the best-known of which is probably "To Serve Man") and novels, but was also an influential reviewer and critic. His most important influence, however, was as an editor, particularly for his "Orbit" series of original anthologies. A full obituary can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/17/obituaries/17KNIG.html. [-ecl]
BEST NOVEL (486 ballots cast) The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (HarperCollins/Eos) American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Morrow) Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (Macmillan (UK)(2000); Del Rey) Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod (Orbit (UK)(2000); Tor) Passage by Connie Willis (Bantam) The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor) BEST NOVELLA (300 ballots cast) "May Be Some Time" by Brenda W. Clough (Analog 4/01) "The Diamond Pit" by Jack Dann (Jubilee, HarperCollins/Voyager Australia; F&SF 6/01) "The Chief Designer" by Andy Duncan (Asimov's 6/01) "Stealing Alabama" by Allen Steele (Asimov's 1/01) "Fast Times at Fairmont High" by Vernor Vinge (The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge, Tor) BEST NOVELETTE (292 ballots cast) "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang (Starlight 3, Tor) "Undone" by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 6/01) "The Days Between" by Allen Steele (Asimov's 3/01) "Lobsters" by Charles Stross (Asimov's 6/01) "The Return of Spring" by Shane Tourtellotte (Analog 11/01) BEST SHORT STORY (331 ballots cast) "The Ghost Pit" by Stephen Baxter (Asimov's 7/01) "Spaceships" by Michael A. Burstein (Analog 6/01) "The Bones of the Earth" by Ursula K. Le Guin (Tales from Earthsea, Harcourt) "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 9/01) "The Dog Said Bow-Wow" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's 10-11/01) BEST RELATED BOOK (252 ballots cast) The Art of Richard Powers by Jane Frank (Paper Tiger) Meditations on Middle-Earth by Karen Haber, ed. (St. Martin's Press/A Byron Preiss Book) The Art of Chesley Bonestell by Ron Miller & Frederick C. Durant III (Paper Tiger) I Have This Nifty Idea...Now What Do I Do With It? by Mike Resnick (Wildside Press) J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey (HarperCollins (UK)(2000); Houghton Mifflin) Being Gardner Dozois by Michael Swanwick (Old Earth Books) BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (452 ballots cast) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Monsters, Inc. Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Once More, With Feeling" Shrek BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR (382 ballots cast) Ellen Datlow (SCI FICTION and anthologies) Gardner Dozois (Asimov's) Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books; Starlight anthology series) Stanley Schmidt (Analog) Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF) BEST PRO ARTIST (323 ballots cast) Jim Burns Bob Eggleton Frank Kelly Freas Donato Giancola Michael Whelan BEST SEMIPROZINE (283 ballots cast) Absolute Magnitude, edited by Warren Lapine Interzone, edited by David Pringle Locus, edited by Charles N. Brown The New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Cramer, David Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney Speculations, edited by Susan Fry, published by Kent Brewster BEST FANZINE (237 ballots cast) File 770, edited by Mike Glyer Ansible, edited by Dave Langford Challenger, edited by Guy Lillian III Mimosa, edited by Richard & Nicki Lynch Plokta, edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott BEST FAN WRITER (248 ballots cast) Jeff Berkwits Bob Devney John L. Flynn Mike Glyer Dave Langford Steven H Silver BEST FAN ARTIST (177 ballots cast) Sheryl Birkhead Brad Foster Teddy Harvia Sue Mason Frank Wu BEST WEB SITE (365 ballots cast) Locus Online, Mark R. Kelly editor/webmaster (www.locusmag.com) SciFi.com, Craig Engler, executive producer (www.scifi.com) SF Site, Rodger Turner, publisher/managing editor (www.sfsite.com) Strange Horizons, Mary Anne Mohanraj, editor-in-chief (www.strangehorizons.com) Tangent Online, Dave Truesdale, senior editor; Tobias Buckell, webmaster (www.tangentonline.com)
Sentinel Foods (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Every culture seems to have some small number of "sentinel" foods that are there to scare away those who are not meant for this culture's cuisine. They separate the really dedicated from the casual dabbler in that cuisine. Now I have often said, with apologies to Will Rogers, that I have never met a cuisine I didn't like. I like just about all the cuisines of the world. But just about every cuisine seems to have some food that is there to chase away those that have the effrontery to only pretend to be a fan. I call these "sentinel" dishes that stand at the gateway to the cuisine. Some cuisines don't need real sentinel dishes. With Thai food, just about everything tastes good, but frequently this food is just spiced so it burns the mouth and stomach. I suppose that is sort of the same idea, but not really. A real sentinel dish does not work by pain, it works because its very concept is revolting. The thought of the food brings a sort of horror.
Frequently these sentinel dishes are made of or with fish. The Norwegians have Lutefisk. This is dried codfish that has been soaked in a water and lye solution before cooking. Now lye is caustic and used in making things like soap. If you splash it on yourself you can be in big trouble. It is a very strong base. That is, it is the opposite of an acid. It is not actually toxic in the usual sense. Still, it is very nasty stuff to deal with and few of us would think of putting it on our hands, much less in our mouths. In Norway, they eat cod fish that has been soaked in lye water, skinned, filleted, and boiled. Uff da!!!
Jewish culture's scare-'em-off sentinel food is also a fish product. It is Gefilte Fish. Literally it means filled fish, but it is minced fish and filler made simmered in fish broth and served in a fish gravy aptly named Yuch. Yuch seems to spontaneously gel even at room temperature. This dish is served with horseradish. The hotter the horseradish, the better since there is a lot of flavor it has to mask and the pain of the horseradish is preferable to the taste of the fish. The Jews are a cautious people and they have a backup disgust food, namely chopped chicken liver and hard-boiled egg. I was pleased to discover that chopped chicken liver is one of the very few foods that not only taste bad, it actually is unhealthy. Your natural instincts to avoid chopped chicken liver are healthy ones. Actually there are too few foods like that, with a taste that warns you away. I think the same is true diesel fuel. You should not eat it and you would not want to. But chopped chicken liver is something that you might actually be served. More likely you will see it on a buffet. At least you can ALWAYS beg off of eating chopped liver and pretend like you were worried about your health. It is very high in cholesterol, though it poses danger only to the really dedicated and people whose taste buds have been dissolved by things like lye.
Speaking of cholesterol, the place where I have been where the diet is highest in that substance is Africa. They eat a lot of meat in Africa, though the "they" might possibly refer to tourists only. I don't know what the local people eat, but it probably includes something called Foo-foo. It is eaten like bread but it is something like fermented cassava pulp pounded into an elastic dough. It is sort of the consistency of the marshmallow covering a Hostess Snowball, but even more elastic. (A Hostess Snowball, by the way, may be one of our own sentinel foods. It is also unhealthy. It is pretty much an extravagant, cellophane-wrapped, heart attack on a piece of cardboard. But I digress. (Deal with it.)) Foo-foo is eaten like bread, but requires good teeth. It has to be swallowed all at once, not just the bit at the back of your mouth since it is so elastic and does not separate easily. You may take a bite, but if it is more than you can swallow in one big gulp you are in trouble. You may think you broke it up by chewing off a smaller piece in your mouth but when it goes down you suddenly find your esophagus and your teeth are doing a tug- of-war on it dragging it over your tonsils. I have had good gustatory experiences in the past and this was not one of them. I don't know if Foo-foo is always this way since I tried it only that once, homemade by a friend. It is pretty tough when this stuff is stuck in your throat, you are gasping for air, and there are tears running down your face to smile and say it is "tasty." I have stayed away from it since. I figured it was the dish itself.
Well, I have found the dish that separates the men from the boys (and the women from the girls) in Chinese cuisine. At least I have found one of them. I am trying to find healthier things to eat on my diet at home. One of the things I am allowed as a freebie is boullion soup. That is not very exciting eating, but I am also allowed vegetables in any quantities I want. I started added Chinese Pickled Cabbage to the bullion and it is not too bad. You get it in Chinese groceries in jars pickled in chili oil and it is quite flavorful. Eventually I decided I wanted to branch out and so I got some Pickled Mustard Greens to add to the soup and some tofu. Tofu is also called "bean curd." All this stuff was in jars and is easy to find in Chinese groceries. I figured the tofu would add a little protein. Tofu generally does not have much flavor. I did not realize that the Fermented Tofu is a whole new ballgame. Fermented Tofu stands sentinel to scare away those who would eat what you find in westernized Chinese restaurants but who don't want to eat the real Chinese cuisine with its snakes, sea cucumbers, and--where I draw the line--dogs. I hasten to add, it is very unlikely that any Westerners would come in contact with any of these foods and this should not be used as an excuse to not appreciate Chinese cuisine, perhaps the most diverse and subtle of cuisines in the world. I am talking here mostly about Fermented Bean Curd. This is tofu that has been fermented in rice wine or salt.
Fermented Bean Curd looks like normal cubes of tofu in a chili sauce. It has a texture that you are not expecting, however. In the mouth it is sort of the consistency of cubes of toothpaste. It does not so much melt in your mouth as smear over your tongue. When it does you are in for a surprise. It is anything but tasteless. The flavor is very much like Bleu Cheese. In fact, researching this article, some places called Fermented Bean Curd "cheese." Though, of course, bean curd is made of soy bean milk and calcium carbonate and not a dairy product. When Evelyn heard that it tasted like Bleu Cheese she wanted to try it, expecting that it would have a light cheese flavor. Bleu Cheese, though, has a strong flavor and Fermented Bean Curd is every bit as strong in flavor. As one site tells me, "The production of fermented bean curd dates to the mid-Qing dynasty. It has been very famous in China since that time for its softness and unique taste." The taste is, indeed, unique. It is a product of Guilin, an area of China with very beautiful scenery, but which has a cuisine that frequently does not appeal to most western tastes. When we traveled in China in 1982 we found that we liked ALL the food, but probably least in Guilin.
Fermented Bean Curd is high in Tyramine, a substance that has been shown to trigger cluster headaches. Some people have been known to get a particularly negative reaction to Fermented Bean Curd. However unless you are on Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI's), there is no need to worry. For everyone else, I do recommend it for people who want an experience they will not soon forget. If you live near me, let me know. I have some I may be getting rid of. Perhaps I am not ready for the full Chinese cuisine. Then again, I did like sea cucumber. Thousand-year eggs? Now that might be a different story. [-mrl]
CHANGING LANES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Two men have a small-scale war following an auto accident. In spite of some intriguing action the film does nothing unusually well until the final third. Then suddenly the dialog and even the plot improve markedly. Most of the story of note and most of the intelligence is toward the end of the film. There is decent acting from Samuel L. Jackson and particularly from the little-known Kim Staunton. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
We are seeing a number of films like COLLATERAL DAMAGE and BIG TROUBLE that were originally scheduled for an earlier release, but after September 11 had to be postponed. The distributor felt that they would remind the public a little too much of current events. Actually, the film that really has bearing on today's world is CHANGING LANES. This is a film about an escalating conflict that engulfs and destroys both sides of the quarrel. Each side has power over the other, moral and non-moral. Each side has its weapons and its gambits. The first act sets up the conflict, the second shows the escalation. And if the third act merely tied up the plot ends and brought the film to a conclusion, this would be a standard mainstream film. In fact the entire film is probably the third act. If the viewer misses the first two acts he does not miss much. (In fact, if the viewer has seen the trailer that may be a sufficient surrogate for the first hour of the film.) CHANGING LANES does not really begin until the two main characters try to resolve the situation. Certainly it is in the resolution that we learn the most that is non-cliche about the principles and their situation.
One of those two main characters is Gavin Banek, a junior partner in an upper echelon Wall Street law firm (played by Ben Affleck). The other is Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), a recovering alcoholic struggling to put enough of his life back together so that his wife and two sons do not slip from his grasp. Even before they clash each is doing everything he can to destroy himself in some significant way. Banek is selling his ethics to his law firm in return for advancement. Currently he is wresting a charitable fund from the control of the family of the recently- deceased man who set up the charity. Gipson, a failure filled with anger, has been using alcohol to quench the fire of his bitterness and fury. The quenching did not work when he was drinking and it certainly is not working now that he has quit. When Banek fights he fights smart and dirty. When Gipson fights he detonates with rage. Banek is subtle, Gipson is explosive. Their war begins with a traffic accident. Banek is rushing to present some important papers at a hearing. Gipson is on the way to his own hearing to maintain access to his two sons. By leaving the scene of the accident Banek destroys Gipson's chances. But he has unknowingly left some all-important papers at the scene of the accident with Gipson. He has stolen what might have been the most important twenty minutes of Gipson's life, but at the same time accidentally left the key to his life in Gipson's hands. Now the games begin.
Jackson and Affleck are good actors and their conflict brings out both good and bad in the characters they are playing. Jackson can be polished when the role calls for it, here he looks dragged out and defeated just as the character demands. Ironically, however, I was more impressed by the acting from the supporting women in their lives. Kim Staunton as Valerie Gipson is an actor I do not remember seeing before. Her face is eloquent of a hard life and the determination to transcend it. She may not play many romantic leads, but I am looking forward to seeing her again. Another unusual face is that of Toni Collette as Banek's secretary and sometime mistress.
CHANGING LANES has its rewards, but they come late in the film. In the meantime the film will please that segment of the audiences who like to see people fight beyond all sanity. This is quite a change of pace for director Roger Michell whose last film was NOTTING HILL. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Most of this Mexican film is a road trip with two teenagers and a woman in her 20s. Much of the trip is discussion of sex and some minor sexual adventures. On a deeper level this film is really about the uses of sex in relationships. There is more going on than meets the eye and when all is revealed the viewer will certainly think back over what has been said. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
Tenoch and Julio (played by Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) are two Mexican teens having a long boring summer even more so with their girl friends visiting Italy. Their time is spent hanging around, taking drugs, and talking about sex. They invite Luisa, the young and attractive wife of Tenoch's writer cousin, to join them on a trip to visit a secret beach, Heaven's Mouth. At first she refuses politely, amused by the boys. But when she discovers her husband has cheated on her she changes her mind and offers to accompany the boys. The beach does not really exist, but the boys set out with Luisa to find a similar spot they can call Heaven's Mouth.
The film becomes a road picture for most of its length as the trio travel the interior of Mexico. They see the poverty and the crime in Mexico's back country. But most of what is on the boys' minds is sex. As they travel Tenoch and Julio whisper to each other little sexual thoughts, mostly about their girlfriends. But Luisa is inquisitive and soon the three are talking openly about sex. They start revealing secrets and each talks about their sex lives. The boys even do a little spying on Luisa, which she seems not to mind. Luisa is suffering great pain when alone and does a little flirting with the boys. She seems anxious to share her wisdom of about ten more years of age with the boys. Not everything she is doing or why will be obvious until the final scenes of the film and perhaps not even then.
Alfonso Cuaron directs a script he co-wrote with his brother Carlos. By American standards the style is a little raw. American films doing a similar story would try to titillate with language, limiting the nudity, and showing what nudity they had artistically. Cuaron opts for a more natural approach, freely showing frontal male and female nudity. He seemingly just puts the camera on his characters and lets them do what they would do in the scene. If the camera catches full frontal male or female nudity, so be it. It is neither to be flaunted nor avoided. What the car passes on the road and the passengers see is given the same realistic feel. What appears to be a police drug bust is passed without comment. One stylistic touch: occasionally the story is narrated by Tenoch, apparently from a point of view years later.
Cuaron gives the film a light and frivolous feel as if it is a throwaway. It appears to be almost a teenage sex comedy. That is because the Cuarons know something about their characters that the audience does not. Puzzle pieces that the viewer did not realize were puzzle pieces fall into place at the end, turning the film from light to bittersweet. I rate Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
ENIGMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Dark and complex espionage thriller based on the Robert Harris novel. March 1943 the British lose their former ability to decode German messages to their submarine fleet. They must either get it back or lose an important shipping convoy. An intelligent thriller perhaps a little too reserved to be thrilling. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
(This review originally ran in the 5 Oct 2001 issue of the MT VOID, but is being re-published since the film is just being released in the United States today.)
For thirty years after the end of the World War II Britain's most secret weapon remained secret. Like the US had done with the Manhattan Project, Britain had put many of their best minds onto their own scientific wartime project. What they found could well have saved the war for Britain. At minimum it shortened the war by at least two years by negating the Germans' most effective weapon, the U-boat. The Germans communicated with their men in the field (or in this case the sea) with an incredibly complex code called Enigma. The code was encrypted and decrypted with a device of mechanical and electronic components that created an unimaginably large number of possibilities that has to be considered in decoding the message.
The mathematics necessary for decoding Enigma was considered to be orders of magnitude beyond what any country could accomplish, even if the closely guarded Enigma boxes fell into the hands of the enemy. What the Germans did not know was that an Enigma box had fallen into allied hands and teams of puzzle solvers and mathematicians were recruited for the purpose cracking the code.
The team was installed at Bletchley Park under the direction of Alan Turing. For the first time rudimentary electronic computers were used to search for and test solutions. By July of 1941 the work had already borne fruit and supply convoys from America were saved from submarine wolf packs. It typically took two days to decode a message, but for many of the messages that was short enough time.
Then in February 1942 the code changed. It was still Enigma, but a new order of complexity had been added. The code could not be solved. At the same time the strategy of the submarine packs changed. The Germans could not know how great a setback it was. By December the Allied shipping losses had quadrupled. It took ten months to recover the old capabilities and the Battle of the Atlantic again turned in favor of the Allies. And so it remained.
All this is history. It is history filmmakers have not made much usage of, though code breaking was an important part of World War II. The film U-571 told the fictional story of Americans capturing an Enigma box and set it much later than the British actually did. The film MIDWAY tells a little about the Americans efforts at code breaking. Robert Harris wrote the novel ENIGMA, a mystery story set in and around the Bletchley Park project. Tom Stoppard has adapted the novel into a screenplay and Michael Apted directs.
The premise is that in March 1943, the Germans changed the code again. The British have just four days to break the modified code before an important convoy from New York will be entering waters that may have German U-boats. Without knowledge of where the U- boats are there is no way to avoid these waters. With nary a mention of Alan Turing in the screenplay, sullen mathematician Tom Jericho (played by Dougray Scott) who had left the Bletchley Park project has been brought back onto the project. He had been instrumental in breaking the code the last time, but had since suffered a nervous breakdown. That breakdown was brought on by being rejected by lovely co-worker Claire (Saffron Burrows). She was a fellow project member with whom Tom had fallen in love. Now there is evidence that Claire intentionally broke project security and perhaps was spying for the Germans. Tom has a double problem of resolving the new German code and looking for the now missing Claire. Helping him is Claire's swatty and bookish housemate Hester Wallace (Kate Winslett). Making life even more difficult is sinister and polished intelligence operator Wigram (played nicely by Jeremy Northam).
Tom Stoppard's adaptation is better than one might have expected retaining some reasonable explanation of the history and the mathematical issues involved without obvious expository lumps, though by the end of the film some technical problems are going by too fast to comprehend. Perhaps in deference to Apted the script has some feminist touches that I do not remember from the book. It also has one gratuitous car chase. John Barry has provided a score that is by turns lush and ominous.
An interesting chapter in history could have made for a better thriller, but as it stands it is reasonably exciting if reserved. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
People interested in the efforts to break the Enigma can find a lot of intriguing material at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/decoding/. This is information to accompany the excellent episode of Nova "Decoding Nazi Secrets." Included is a transcript of that broadcast. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Always forgive your enemies -- nothing annoys them so much. -- Oscar Wilde
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