MT VOID 09/20/02 (Vol. 21, Number 12)

MT VOID 09/20/02 (Vol. 21, Number 12)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/20/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 12

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to


The reason the last few issues all had the same mailing date (19 August 2002) even though they had different internal dates is that we were on vacation for almost four weeks. The issues were prepared and sent to ahead of time, and each week someone "approved" that week's VOID for transmission. Thanks to Rob Mitchell and Steve Goldsmith for doing this while we were gone. [-ecl]

Hugo Winners:

Best Novel: "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman (Morrow)
Best Novella: "Fast Times at Fairmont High" by Vernor Vinge 
     ("The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge", Tor)
Best Novelette: "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang 
     ("Starlight 3", Tor)
Best Short Story: "The Dog Said Bow-Wow" by Michael Swanwick 
     ("Asimov's" 10-11/01)
Best Related Book: "The Art of Chesley Bonestell" by Ron Miller 
     & Frederick C. Durant III (Paper Tiger)
Best Dramatic Presentation: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship 
     of the Ring"
Best Professional Editor: Ellen Datlow (SCI FICTION and 
Best Pro Artist: Michael Whelan
Best Semiprozine: "Locus", edited by Charles N. Brown
Best Fanzine: "Ansible", edited by Dave Langford
Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford
Best Fan Artist: Teddy Harvia
Best Web Site (one-time Hugo only): Locus Online, Mark R. Kelly 
     editor/webmaster (
John W. Campbell Award: Jo Walton (second year of eligibility)

[Charlie Brown announced that he was stepping down as editor of "Locus". Dave Langford declared "Ansible" to now fall into the category of semiprozine.]

TV Show on Science Fiction:

The History Channel os showing "Fantastic Voyage: Evolution of Science Fiction" on Saturday, September 28, from 8:00 PM-10:00 PM (EDT), repeating at midnight. The description is as follows: "For centuries, we've been hypnotized by tales of scientific speculation, alien invasion, and future fantasy. From the pioneers of science fiction to the dime novels of the 1930s, from the atomic age and its B-movies to the age of Trekkies, our Fantastic Voyage combines surprising stories, visionary personalities, provocative ideas, and colorful visuals to salute the history of an enduring and important genre. Includes interviews with William Shatner, Roger Corman, and Paul Verhoeven." (Well, okay, may that last sentence fragment isn't so promising.) [-ecl]

Rodeo 101 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The last few weeks I have been writing editorials about Western themes. These articles have been inspired by our recent trip to the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming. We had never been to a rodeo. In fact, not being sports-minded I figured you would just about have to pay me to go to a rodeo. That is essentially what happened. We were to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial near Rapid City South Dakota. The admission to the memorial was one price, but the admission to the rodeo they were having on the grounds was cheaper and included, as a bonus, free admission to the memorial. Effectively, if you are going to the memorial they will pay you to also take tickets to the rodeo. Not a bad price. But I was not sure exactly what to expect from a rodeo.

We were there about an hour early, having finished up at the memorial sooner than expected. We sat on the bleachers in front of the arena watching the cowboy types gallop horses around and look attractive to the opposite sex. It is an outdoor arena, basically just a fenced-in area like a corral. There are some wooden beams to sit on and some bleachers. Every once in a while they would herd cattle across the arena into a stall on the far side. At about 15 minutes before the start of the show it was time they clear the arena. The loudspeakers played country western music for the crowd. Stravinsky just would not due for this particular occasion. Then comes 15 minutes of introduction of people present, talk about rodeo, and the Star Spangled Banner before they got to the real festivities.

The first event was the bucking horses. They put on him a lofty rough-looking cowboy who looked like he could go the distance. The first horse bucked this rider in just about four seconds. I couldn't get the binoculars to my eyes fast enough to watch before it was over. The second rider lasted almost twice as long. The third one broke something, but not the horse. The fourth stayed on until the buzzer. The score was 3 to 1, horses leading cowboys (an interesting reversal). Fifth rider was another washout. The sixth also stayed until the buzzer, got kicked off but could not get his hand free. He was dragged all over the arena by a horse in rightful indignation. Eventually the horse decided he has proven his point and let the man go. The claim over the loudspeaker was that the rider was OK. I guess the show must go on. During the action a bunch of people from the crowd had run forward to try to help if they could, and some got injured helping. Six riders so far and three nearly got killed. They play tough in the West.

Calf roping went better. The rider has to rope the calf, jump off the horse, grab the calf, turn him over, and tie the feet together. One guy was nearly in trouble as his horse pulled on the rope at the same time the calf did. He was almost cut by the rope. A bunch of the ropers missed the calf's neck. Sounds good to me. Save the calf a stiff neck. Every once an a while a rodeo clown broke in with a vaudeville-style joke. I turns out this guy was considered to be a really good clown. At least he had a good reputation but the jokes were very old and exceptionally painful.

Steer wrestling has a guy chase a steer on horseback and jump from the horse and flip the steer to his side. Sometimes the cowboy can't catch up with the steer. Sometimes the steer throws the cowboy. Sometimes the steer bounces on his side and jumps up again. They let him leave the arena then. He trots away with a look that says, "Well, what the hell was that all about? I've been in my share of bullshit in my time but this thing takes the cake." Excuse the bovine French. Many of them really were brought up in a barn.

There are ads on the side of the corral for things like insurance and smokeless tobacco. Each has a banner and when the time comes for their ad the announcer delivers it and a female rider of stunning magnificence rides horseback around the arena with the banner. There is something weird about a cowgirl with a banner for insurance. It just is not old west enough.

The next event is women's calf roping. Women don't have to tie the calf. Roping is enough. This is to redress injustices by our forefathers. Also the ladies and the calves prefer it that way. The calves run as fast as they can right for the exit and they generally know just where it is. It would take you or me a few minutes to find the exit, but the calves are experts. I guess it is part of the job and they are professional calves. They know they don't like the arena. The men also have a breakaway roping event, but they have steers, not calves. Again it is the injustices of the forefathers thing. A roper is from Pierre. Here they pronounce it "Peer." Every once in a while one of them wants to pronounce it correctly, but they get him to stop with Pierre pressure.

I have to admit that most animal sports I don't care for. I don't see much sport in cruelty to animals. The rodeo isn't perfect, but it does not appear to be overly cruel either. In breakaway roping the animal just runs across the arena. Coming from someone who gets bored with football and baseball almost instantly, rodeo is a more appealing sport.

The Barrel Race has women riders run a loopy path in the fastest time. The main object is to get through in the shortest time with the dizziest horse.

The second bull in bull riding bucked his rider then refused to leave the ring. It took him several minutes to get off-stage. I think he liked the limelight. Whatever. The last event was bull riding. This is where men ride the Brahma bulls. The nice thing about that event is I was sure of getting an action photo if I just waited. Everyone gets thrown. A Brahma bull is one heck of a mean stack of roast beef.

If there was more evidence of pain to the animals I might have been a little more negative. I wouldn't want to go to a Spanish or Mexican bull fight, for example. My high school Spanish book had pieces about bull fighting and talked about the people "who make the mistake of feeling sorry for the bull." That is a mistake I myself would make every time. But almost all of rodeo seemed to be just roughhousing with cattle. It rarely gets more rough than what I used to do with my dog. If it ever got worse than that it was happening behind the scenes. [-mrl]

S1M0NE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A Hollywood director tired of pandering to the demands of spoilt brat actresses uses a new computer program to create an entirely digital actress who can be commanded to just follow his will. Andrew Niccol creates a sort of dual to his THE TRUMAN SHOW in which the world is real and the character is not. The result is an often clever satire of popular culture. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)

In a comic reworking of FRANKENSTEIN, a film director tired of having to deal with prima donna actresses and actors tries an alternative. Victor Taransky, played by Al Pacino, gets an opportunity to use a secret computer program that allows him to create a digital image of a non-existent actress named Simone. Simone is really short for "Simulation One." Simone is purely an extension of Taransky, completely in his control, but that does not mean that the whole project does not get out of control as this new actress becomes a hot popular craze.

The film was written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol. Niccol previously wrote and directed GATTACA, my choice for the best science fiction film of the 1990s. He also wrote THE TRUMAN SHOW. That latter was about a real person in a totally artificial world. This film has a totally artificial person in a real world.

There are several large gaps in the plot logic. The largest is that the film glosses over the studio financial arrangements with a non-existent actress. Some of what is done with computers in this film also seems unrealistic considering what the capabilities of computers are ever going to be.

Rachel Roberts accepted the uncredited title role. In the credits it is claimed that Simone is played by Simone. She is supposed to be playing an amalgam of several great actresses. She allows her acting to be totally the opposite of the genuineness of those actors. Similarly the films that Taransky makes with Simone seem strangely dull and stylized to be the great popular successes the plot requires these films within the film to be. Though it is interesting in this Frankenstein story that she was in her own way pieced together from dead people. Pacino has a great time and shares it with the audience. He plays his role with just a light touch of schizophrenia as he speaks the lines to be repackaged for Roberts's lips. In some cases he actually argues with Simone in much the way that Anthony Perkins argues with his mother in PSYCHO.

This is an amusing satire of the Hollywood star system. While this film is no GATTACA it does make for a fun, science fiction comedy. I will rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

THE FOUR FEATHERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: The seventh film version of A. E. W. Mason's THE FOUR FEATHERS compromises some of its integrity to be a more Hollywood-ish story than the novel told. Nevertheless it makes for a rousing adventures with some possible comment on current events. You can never get enough of this kind of rousing historical action adventure. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

The new film version of 1904 novel by A. E. W. Mason, THE FOUR FEATHERS, has been directed by Shekhar Kapur (ELIZABETH) and released by Miramax. This is the seventh film adaptation, with predecessors going back as far as 1915. Zolton Korda directed the most familiar version in 1939 and, incidentally, a remake entitled STORM OVER THE NILE in 1955. For history buffs the film is a pleasure in the first two acts, but it works too hard at dumbing down and Hollywoodizing the ending, so it falters in the third act.

Set in the 1860s, it is the story of five friends (Harry, Jack, William, Edward, and Tom) in the British Army assigned to Sudan with the British troops to combat the followers of the Mahdi, a powerful and charismatic Islamic leader. One can see this film with no special knowledge of history, but it will serve the viewer better to have seen Basil Dearden's film KHARTOUM or better still to have read a little about the period. The film has several references to Charles Gordon, the character played by Charlton Heston in the film KHARTOUM.

The five men, friends from the academy rugby field, are assigned to the troops sent to engage the Mahdi's forces at the time Gordon is fighting to hold Khartoum. However, Harry (Heath Ledger) has great personal doubts about the military incursion and resigns the army rather than be sent. His friends as well as his fiancee accuse him of cowardice. William, Edward, Tom, and fiancee Ethne each give Harry a white feather symbolic of cowardice. To restore his honor, prove his courage to himself, and to protect his friends Harry privately travels to Sudan, a sort of self-appointed secret agent.

The timing of this production is interesting as there are several distinct parallels between the Middle East politics then and now and the film does what it can to play them up without taking too strong a stand on current Middle East policy today. Initially Harry does not believe in the British involvement in that remote part of the world. Whether he changes his mind and whether the British involvement is ill-advised is left to the viewer. Clearly however, the British are just not properly prepared for warfare of this type.

The film suggests it is folly to send an army to a part of the world where instant death can lie behind any rock in order to defend a national policy which here seems predicated mostly on vanity. Certainly there is more politics in this film than in Zoltan Korda's 1939 film version. In addition, some modifications seem have been added to Hollywoodize the story, mostly to make it more politically correct and to provide an ending that would sell well. The role of Abou Fatma is quite different in the book and the film. In the book Abou is a stealthy Arab, previously of Charles Gordon's staff, who moves behind the scenes. In the film he is a black tribesman, not of Arab origin. This is an interesting change, however, since in the Sudan the struggle is largely blacks against whites. Abou Fatma is played by Djimon Hounsou of AMISTAD and GLADIATOR.

Where this film improves on previous versions is in the nice visuals. One goes from a recreated England with constant gray skies and a 19th century steam engine in the streets to the bright and dry Sudan. It is a powerful contrast. Some of the battle scenes are also spectacular, though perhaps assisted by CGI.

This is not an ideal film version of THE FOUR FEATHERS, but it is most enjoyable. Historical epics are getting rare again and this one comes like a breath of fresh air. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

The novel has been re-published in a film edition in paperback or may be found on-line at {}. [-mrl]

ONE HOUR PHOTO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Robin Williams turns in a superior performance as a discount store photo clerk who becomes obsessed with a single family. This is not the most original plot, but the acting is good and the situation is strange enough to keep the audience in suspense. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Robin Williams who recently played a killer in INSOMNIA plays another social predator, a loner who with unusual motives stalks a family in ONE HOUR PHOTO. Sy Parrish, a clerk and developer at the photo department of a discount store, has little life outside of his job. At the end of the day he eats fast food and then returns to his family which currently consists of a gerbil in a cage. He truly leads a life of gentle desperation. His loneliness has built to an obsession with one family of customers, the Yorkins, that he dreams of being part of. They know him only as "Sy, the photo guy." He tracks their lives through the photos they bring to be processed. He sees in this family the perfect relationships that are missing from his own life. He fantasizes that he is Uncle Sy, a much loved member of the family.

The film traces his obsession, his own philosophizing about the Yorkin family and the meaning and role of photography in American life. Writer-director Mark Romanek has given us a stylized and somewhat creepy portrait of a person on the margins of society and whom many of us sees every day and never gives a second thought but who lives with private demons nobody suspects. Williams fits perfectly into the role looking nondescript and almost fading into the background. While the plot progresses with very deliberate speed, it has a constant electrical tension. Telling the story in flashback may limit where the story can go, and where it does go is an overly familiar cliche. On the way there are some nice stylistic touches. Romanek likes to use shelves in the discount store to express emotions. When things are bad for Sy a tracking shot has Sy walking quickly down an aisle. The shelves appear as rays into his arms along which things seem to be thrown at his body. When he decides to take action he does an about face and now the objects are coming from and out of him. Later in a dream he stands among empty shelves. He is dressed in white and appears to be an angel with the shelves forming his wings.

The film reminds one of the stories of Yukio Mishima crossed with the film PEEPING TOM. TAXI DRIVER may also come to the viewer's mind as we hear Sy's thoughts. ONE HOUR PHOTO is less than totally original and has some minor errors, but it still is a creepy and moving character study. More than in any other film, including INSOMNIA, Robin Williams shows that he has the ability to be a really great character actor. I rate ONE HOUR PHOTO a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale or a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

DEVDAS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: What is at least the fifth film version of this love story is the most lavish and expensive Hindi film ever made. The pace is slow, but the production design and the musical numbers are exquisite. Two lovers torn apart by their families have a tragic destiny. If you are not used to Hindi film, this is a good one to start on. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

DEVDAS is based on Saratchandra Chatterjee's novel and has been filmed (at least) four times previously. This fifth version is directed and co-written by Sanjay Leele Bhansali, as only his third feature film. DEVDAS is, however, the most expensive Hindi film ever made. Anyone who has seen the film is unlikely to doubt that it had a big price tag. Even with low Indian production costs and salaries, there is what has to be a lot of money up on that screen. The settings are huge mansions and much bigger palaces with incredible use of colors and fabrics. Rare is the song that does not have a row of dancing girls in the background. This production is lavish all the way, even if the pacing is a little slow, almost operatic. I swear that twenty-five minutes of the three-hour film is spent with characters just talking with exaggerated joy about how excited they are that family member Devdas (Shahrukh Khan of ASOKA and HEY RAM) is returning from London.

The story takes place in the late 1800s. Devdas has studied law in London for ten years and is now returning to his home in India. And what a home it is, a huge mansion provided by his father, a respected judge who has been knighted by Queen Victoria. Devdas wants to see all his family but is most anxious to see Paro, his childhood sweetheart and neighbor. All is happy until Devdas and Paro announce their love for each other. Devdas's mother trusts her son, but Paro's parents and the judge are all desperately opposed to the match. Paro's parents think that the beautiful young woman can catch a richer man and the judge thinks that marrying Paro will be marrying below his son's station. Devdas's sister seems to just hate them both and also wants to break up the couple.

Paro marries a man who can give her a palace. Devdas has made friends with a courtesan and lives in a fancy brothel. But even then the story is not over. There is more tragedy to come for the couple. The story touches on many things. The importance of status, of money, and the status of courtesans in India all enter into the story. The plot develops slowly, but there are some spectacular scenes.

Visually the film is reminiscent of the more exquisite scenes of THE CELL, though to very different effect. We have a view of what must be the most beautiful red light district in the world lit up at night. We see a palace's celebration of a festival of the goddess Durga, also in beautiful detail, design, and color. The color red seems to run through the entire film, in some cases literally in a repeating image of henna dyed feet leaving red footprints on white marble.

DEVDAS is the kind of film that Rogers and Hammerstein would have made had they been Indian. I rate the film a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Had I been present at the creation, I would have 
           given some useful hints for the better ordering 
           of the universe.
                                          -- Alfonso the Wise

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