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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/17/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 46
Table of Contents
Hugo Nominees Available On-Line:
The short fiction nominees (novella, novelette, and short story) that appeared in ASIMOV'S, ANALOG, and F&SF are now available on- line at the respective magazine sites: http://www.asimovs.com, http://www.analogsf.com/0204/nebulas.html, and http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/fiction/hugo01.htm.
(It would not surprise me to find that the first gets changed to http://www.analogsf.com/0204/hugos.html at some point.)
There are no on-line versions of the stories from anthologies yet (Chiang, LeGuin, and Vinge). [-ecl]
Subtract Two Banthas (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You will notice that this issue contains a review of STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES which is just opening this weekend. Please do not be spoiled by this quick service--it will not always be possible with all films. Most films open on Fridays these days. I requested Mr. Lucas release it in time for me to get a review into the MT VOID in the first week. He is, of course, knowledgeable about the importance of this publication and the eminence of its readership and arranged for the film to be released a day early. Apparently this pushed back all his deadlines by a day and the result is that in scene 57 you see only one bantha where you should be seeing five. In my one piece of dishonesty in a film review, I have split the difference with him and reviewed and rated the film as if there were three banthas. [-mrl]
More on Spider-Man (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I reviewed of SPIDER-MAN and I talk about some of the problems with the character faces with physics. Something that should be mentioned is the physics of the Spider Swing. The film shows Spider-Man gracefully swinging through the canyon-like streets of Manhattan. This may look effortless, but the real thing would be anything but. The problem, as Scotty would say, is "Och! Ya canna' change the laws of physics." Spider-Man is moving a fair mass at an impressive speed. It looks to us like gravity is doing all the work. Gravity, unfortunately, is nobody's friend and does free work for nobody. That energy has to come from somewhere. It probably comes from the muscles in his arms. Yes, what Spider-Man puts in is good old muscle power. This means it would not be such a pleasurable way to travel. Even with his new improved strength, it would quickly sap his energy. By the time he gets to the Green Goblin he should be an exhausted, sweaty mess, even with the help of spider muscles. What Spider-Man has is a sort of portable trapeze. Trapeze work takes a lot of energy. Naturally a trapeze is not completely efficient, and you must put energy in to avoid losing altitude on each swing. Traveling at these speeds under muscle power, even with his magic new muscles, should be very taxing.
Incidentally, I didn't think spiders are known for much muscle power. And the swings are fast enough that he could easily dislocate a shoulder. Small arthropods seem to have great strength. Ants can lift several times their own weight. But that is because we are talking about such small masses. A spider can fall from the top of the Empire State Building and survive. Don't try this at home kiddies. [-mrl]
The Legacy of Tom Corbett (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was listening to some old-time radio and they had an episode of "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet." This was a science fiction series that ran on the radio just a short time, the first half of 1952. It lasted only six months before being taken off, though it lasted much longer as a TV show. This is one of the rare instances where a TV program was adapted to the radio instead of vice versa. Actually, it was adapted to several media. There were Tom Corbett comic books from Dell, Tom Corbett young adult novels from Grosset & Dunlap, and Tom Corbett toys. What few remember is that the whole Tom Corbett universe was a legacy of Robert A. Heinlein. The basic concept of the plot and the characters were actually based on Robert Heinlein's juvenile SPACE CADET.
As people note of original STAR TREK series, while it is set in the future, it really has the feel of the decade it was made. I was noting how really 1950s-ish the Tom Corbett future was. I am not talking about just the fact that it has another hero with an Anglo-Saxon name. I know what you are thinking, what are the chances yet another hero is Anglo-Saxon? Robert Heinlein called his character Matt Dodson, but TV renamed him Tom Corbett. Neither name sounds particularly ethnic. You know the network would have never created an Izzy Rosenblatt, Space Cadet. And Tawana Mifume, Space Cadet, would have been right out.
In this episode Tom Corbett was on Venus looking for the "the Secret Leader of the Revolution." I found that part very interesting. The first question that comes to mind is how can anybody be a SECRET leader of a revolution? I thought that to lead an insurrection you probably had to convince a lot of people to revolt. It is not a hit-and-run sort of thing like bombing. Leading revolutions is very different. You can't just yell "Revolt!" and duck for cover. Generally, leaders of revolution may be hard to find, but they are not all that secretive about who they are. Too many people have to know them or there is no revolution. They need a certain degree of fame. And there is one other little thing they need. They need people willing and motivated to fight for the rebellion. People don't stage a revolution just because they have a long weekend and nothing to do. There have to be a lot of people discontented with the current order of things to revolt. That sort of puts the leader of the revolution in a different category than, say, a saboteur. To say a revolutionary leader is a villain is saying all the discontented potential revolutionaries should just stay discontented. The existence of a revolutionary leader seems like more a symptom, it is not the disease itself.
A leader of a revolution has to be a popular leader. In this case a secret popular leader which sounds like a contradiction in terms. I suppose he might be like the villains of the old 1940s movie serials who wore robes and masks and gave their orders by radio until the final chapter when they were unmasked. Somehow I do not think that was what was going on here.
Why did they make the villain a "revolution leader" then? It was because of what was going on was 1950s politics. This was during the Red Scare days when people in America were afraid that the Soviets would try exporting their revolution to the US. So there were several types of villains that could be used interchangeably. For the villains, these children's TV shows had a limited set of types. You could have saboteurs, mad bombers, people trying to control the world, bank robbers, people trying to get their hands on some secret super weapon, agents of other governments, and leaders of revolutions.
I wonder how much the writers thought about the fact they were making one of their villainous types the category of activist that included John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In the 1950s these were still taught in the schools as historic heroes, but they were supposedly the last revolutionary leaders who were good revolutionary leaders. It is like the founder of your religion is good, founders of later religions are bad.
So they branded revolutionaries as a bad thing in 1952 and five- year-olds heard how bad it was to be a revolutionary. Fifteen years later these kids were in college during the Vietnam War. Suddenly they decided that they did not like the way things were going in the country. So they picked up this negative image and suddenly everybody claimed to be a revolutionary. Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, members of the Students for a Democratic Society, members of the Black Panther Party, Jerry Rubin all claimed to be leaders of a revolution. It was their form of protest. At that time everybody in school talked about "the revolution" and how much better things would be when the revolution comes. I was there and I was not sure how serious they were. I wonder how many of them first heard about opposing the government by being "leaders of the revolution" when they heard it on 1950s shows like "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet." [-mrl]
STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What must be the most complexly plotted of any film series gets a new chapter. SW-II seems to be the most complex STAR WARS film so far. It busily knits up loose ends preparing the way for the last piece to neatly fit in place. Many things are happening at once as Obi-wan goes in one direction uncovering conspiracies to control the future and Anakin completes unfinished business from his past. Certainly the film is a mixed bag, but there is ample that is rewarding to make this film worth seeing. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
Perhaps the biggest fault of the George Lucas's STAR WARS series is what once was its greatest virtue. Every new episode has to demonstrate how much the art of graphics has improved. Some of the images that he creates in this film are so complex they could never have been accomplished three years ago when the last episode was released. It could well be that he is pushing the art farther than it really should go. In STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, he now has so many elements combined in a single frame that the eye has trouble taking them all in. Some of his images are needlessly complex and confusing because he is demonstrating as much as he can, not as much as he should. The intricate hugely layered views of Coruscant at night make one long for the simple images of one or two dinosaurs one would find in an old Ray Harryhausen film. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the technology has far surpassed the Harryhausen level. George Lucas did not invent digital graphics, but his films certainly opened up the field. His STAR WARS series is taking so long to come out that now the use of the digital graphics that he pioneered is already considered cheap artificial effects that have a bad reputation. Still, every new film he makes in the series breaks new ground, and by now it may be more ground than was needed to be broken.
That is not the only way Lucas has been experimental by any means. He has convinced the world that to do a major series like STAR WARS out of chronological order is actually possible. But he has not shown that it is a good idea. In his Indiana Jones series he found he could not keep making Harrison Ford a younger man each successive film. In the STAR WARS series he faces different problems. Everyone--at least every fan--knows how the series is going to end and that the second half of the story is less spectacular than the first half. Will Obi-wan die in this fight? No, we have already seen that he lives to be an old man. By examining ATTACK OF THE CLONES and A NEW HOPE we already know a great deal of what has to happen in the one remaining film. There are far more plot requirements on the next STAR WARS film than on, say, the next James Bond film. All that is required of the next Bond film is that it has to be reasonably entertaining. Lucas has set himself more stringent goals and surprisingly he generally is able to achieve those goals.
So what is the current story? It begins with an attempt on the life of formerly Princess but now Senator Amidala (again played by Natalie Portman). Obi-wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) try to guard her, but a second assassination attempt ends in an incredible (but not necessarily good) mid-air chase high, high above the BLADERUNNER-inspired streets of Coruscant. A clue left at the scene sends Obi-wan off looking for planet that no longer seems to exist to find a very real conspiracy that is quite literally hatching. In his absence Anakin goes off to Tatooine to tie up the largest remaining loose end in his short screen life. Along the way several pieces fall into place from other stories. We learn more about how Luke Skywalker will come to be on his moisture farm. We see why the schism is forming between Anakin and the Jedi. There is even some explanation of why go from robotic troopers to what might seem like lower-tech humans that we see in the 1977 film. This is a film that might not stand well on its own, but it offers plenty to followers of the series.
While George Lucas, who once again wrote and directed, is a visionary filmmaker, he is not necessarily a great director. He does not always seem to know the difference between a good line- reading and a bad one. While there are instances of some very good acting in the films, they generally are there because he has actors like Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee. These are actors who are well-known because they can provide a good performance. Frequently a lesser character delivers a line that gets by with a terrible and flat delivery. The director should have caught it, but has not. Of course, it is not clear that any actor could give lines like "You are in my very soul tormenting me" a believable delivery. But the actors who are really professionals manage to compensate for the over-tolerant director. In order for a love relationship like the one in this film to work, the viewer must understand what each person sees in the other. The chemistry is just not there between Padme and Anakin. Natalie Portman is attractive, as I suppose is Hayden Christensen, but their love scenes come off stilted and cold. There just is no chemistry between them. On the other hand, a little more reserve in the Jar-Jar Binks character in this film is more than welcome. I give Lucas credit that he did not simply read the fans' opinions and decide to eliminate Jar-Jar. He even has a return of Watto the junk dealer. The Empire should be a democracy, but a film production needs to be a dictatorship.
Visually much more of this film is more dark and murky than previous films have been. This may be to cover loss of resolution Lucas expected transferring from a film shot digitally to a film print. Much of the effects of the film, like the circus of images in the complex cityscapes, are covered by a curtain of night. The darkness only serves to make the complex images more confusing. John Williams musical score has a lot of retread to it, but he has written a very nice love theme.
Like many very talented people, George Lucas does not always recognize his limitations. This tends to make films of mixed quality. Still, there is always enough that is excellent to make them worth seeing. There is enough here that I thought was good to give the film a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
KILN PEOPLE by David Brin (copyright 2002, Tor, 460pp, $25.95 HC, ISBN 0-765-30355-8) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Okay, raise your hand if you have a list of authors that are "automatic hardbacks" - that is, they publish a book, and you go out and buy it right away without caring what anybody says about it. I have a list like that, and David Brin is high on that list. But he's been slipping. His installment in the Second Foundation Trilogy was tremendous, but his Uplift Trilogy was below his usual standards, and The Transparent Society said a lot of interesting things, but seemed to be disorganized.
At Worldcon in Chicago a couple of years ago I went to a panel where Brin read from KILN PEOPLE, and quite frankly I was *not* impressed. Brin seemed to be going off in some weird direction that was completely different than anything he had ever done before, one that I certainly didn't care for.
Well, after reading KILN PEOPLE I discovered that I was right: Brin has gone off in a weird direction that he's never gone before. It turns out that it's quite alright - KILN PEOPLE is one of the best books that Brin has ever written.
It is sometime in the reasonably near future, and scientists have been able to quantify and capture the essence of the human soul. Not only that, but a method to copy the soul has been developed. So, what you do is make a specialized clay version of yourself, copy your essence into that clay version, and let that "ditto" go run around for a day taking care of your business, whether it be mowing the lawn or doing the grocery shopping, or going to important meetings with clients. The menial tasks go to the green dittos, the grays do the standard things like work and business stuff, black dittos are the super-intelligent genius type dittos, etc. The catch is that dittos last a day. At the end of the day, the ditto comes home and "inloads" its experiences and memories to the original.
And herein lies the greatness of this novel. The society that Brin has set up here is fascinating and thought provoking. Think about it - you never have to go to work again! Just fire up a gray in the morning, send him or her to the office. Fire up a green, and let it do the chores for you. In business for yourself and have a ton of clients that you need to meet with? Fire up a bunch of grays and let them do all the work at the same time, while you collect the money for your services!
But wait, there's more. Brin couldn't resist throwing elements of The Transparent Society in this novel (indeed, he even uses the term early in the book). There are cameras all over the place to record everybody's doings and whereabouts. The key is accountability, which was a major theme in The Transparent Society. Major crimes are virtually no longer committed, as there is a visual record of almost everything. Furthermore, it's not a crime to commit act of atrocities on dittos, so violence and crime again real people is virtually unheard of.
But do dittos have rights as real folks do? Can they vote? Should they be protected from harm as real folks are? After all, they have the same soul as their creator, don't they?
There are lots and lots of fascinating things to think about in this novel, but Brin doesn't really explain them all to the reader. He drops a hint or makes a statement, then moves on to the next thing. Bam Bam. Off to another one.
But I haven't said anything about the story yet. I suppose I should do that. It's a detective story, or more appropriately, a "ditective" story. There are a lot of terms like that in the novel that play on the word ditto, and to be honest it gets a little annoying by the end. Albert Morris is a private investigator looking into pirated copies of a famous "actress". However, that little job ends up being way more than it appeared on the surface. As a matter of fact, that actress is one small piece of a gigantic puzzle involving murder, new ditto technology that will allow dittos to last more than one day, long-distance imprinting (current dittoing technology dictates that the ditto be in very close proximity to the original), and some very weird and wild stuff that would give too much away if I spilled the beans here.
This can hardly be called a standard detective story, given the society and technology involved, and yet it really is, given just what it is that detectives do.
This is a very good read and an excellent novel, and one that I highly recommend. [-jak]
Addendum: Yes, once again it's Hugo time, and every year I review as many of the Hugo-nominated novels as I can, given time and real-life commitments. As I've said before, the Hugo-nominating science fiction community and I have widely differing tastes. I have read none of this year's nominees, although I have to say that two of them are already in the house and at least one I had wanted to read but hadn't picked up yet. So up until the voting deadline I will be frantically reading and reviewing. I hope I can say something intelligent for all of you. [-jak]
HOLLYWOOD ENDING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a flaccid attempt at movie industry satire. It might have made a whimsical three-page story, but the plot is too thin to carry a feature film. It is repetitious and the characters have little innate interest value. Woody Allen, while so often painting himself as insecure, is a man whose self-confidence is starting to exceed his artistic abilities. Trying to dredge humor from the limitations of the blind is a sorry task, unworthy of Allen's talents. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
Woody Allen can make some very funny comments in two or three sentences. He might suggest a stage actress was so bad that the underworld backers of a play put a hit on her. When he starts thinking that he can take these quips and adapt them into full-length films, he gets himself into trouble. That is what his comedies these days seem to be doing, taking simple ideas and making films from them. He also has claimed that he can always sit down and write really funny material. Allen is overestimating his abilities. The longer the public is exposed to any breed of humor the less funny it seems. The old double-whammy is getting him. First his mind is not as young and supple as it once was so his writing is not be quite as funny as it once was. Secondly the public is used to his style so there is less anarchy and less of the unexpected in his humor. While at in the 1970s his style was uproariously funny, these days he is aiming at merely the whimsical and for much of his audience he is missing even that target. A film like BANANAS is a sharp staccato of use-'em-and-leave-'em jokes; HOLLYWOOD ENDING is more just one single joke endlessly elaborated and amplified until it has over-stayed its welcome.
One can hear Woody's voice saying, "A BLIND MAN could direct this film." It is the kind of anecdote he might have told in one of his books like WITHOUT FEATHERS. Here he tells the story, filling it out with dialog and some character development but advancing the story only slowly. Some jokes are bad misfires. In one scene Allen has an extended argument with his ex-wife in a restaurant. He is trying to discuss the film he is making and he keeps returning to his complaints with his ex-wife until he is dragging in people at other tables. He plays boorish and rude in public as if his being a bad boy is by itself funny. Conceivably this could be a humorous situation if properly written, but it simply becomes embarrassing and irritating. Allen seems to have lost the ability to ask himself, "Is this really funny?".
Tea Leoni plays Ellie, the ex-wife of director Val Waxman (Allen). She knows Val needs work and arranges to have him chosen to direct a crime film. The executives at Galaxie Films, including Ellie's new fiance Hal (Treat Williams), are leery of the neurotic and unreliable Val, but the film is expected to be undemanding to direct and Val gets the job. Then just before shooting starts Val develops hysterical blindness. Knowing that Val is washed up if he quits the film, his agent convinces him to bluff his way through directing the film. This brings Val in close contact with Ellie. She has some affection for him and must choose between him and a new love, the slightly oily film executive Hal. It is never clear what she would see in either. Allen gives us little reason to invest interest in any of these characters, with the possible exception of Ellie.
Ironically the film is at its most interesting before it gets to its premise. Allen shows us some of the conflicts that a director has to resolve in setting up a production shoot and that filler is more interesting than the mainstream of the story. Once he loses his sight, we get a tedious repetition of scenes of him memorizing the layouts of rooms, bumping into objects, and staring off into space as he bluffs his way through his job. Woody's character is basically the same he has played since the beginning of his film career (except that at some time around ANNIE HALL it went from unsuccessful with women to highly successful). Where the film needed a strong satirical edge, instead you get a vague feeling of sympathy for directors' job. This film is not in the same class as THE PLAYER or THE BIG PICTURE.
Allen should have realized that from the start the story had three serious problems. First, there is no way to resolve the film. If Val makes an unsuccessful film, the story says blind people do not make good film directors. Big surprise for a visual medium. But if he is successful, this film is a weak shadow of THE PRODUCERS. Second, Allen cannot properly create and develop characters who are so self-absorbed they cannot tell that Val is blind. Third, his character is bumping into things, not from being humorously clumsy, but because he is blind. He is asking the audience to laugh at the handicapped.
Allen plays a film director who was good at one point and seems to have lost the recipe. I wonder if he realizes how close he is hitting to home. I rate HOLLYWOOD ENDING a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl] ===================================================================
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The fanatic who kills in God's name makes his God a murderer. -- Elie Wiesel
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