MT VOID 09/27/02 (Vol. 21, Number 13)

MT VOID 09/27/02 (Vol. 21, Number 13)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/27/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 13

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
TOPIC: Snapping Shrimp (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Snapping Shrimp (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Department of Odd Science Facts: I was a little taken aback when I read an article about the Snapping Shrimp. This little character is really a candidate for Ripley's Believe it or Not. It seems he (or she) has an unusual defense mechanism. The shrimp has a big claw and he snaps it shut. Just by the cavitation of the moving claw it creates a little bubble that pops and startles its prey. Whole submarines can hide the sound of their engines from sonar from just the popping bubbles from these shrimp. Isn't that something? No? Ya' say ya' not satisfied that this is an interesting creature? How about if I said that the bubble actually gives off light? It does, you know. Still not impressed? How about if I said that the bubble also gets hot. How hot? Something like 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Other sources I read made the temperature estimate considerably higher. {} makes the temperature something like the temperature in the sun. This is one shrimp I would not want to mess with. It could end up frying me. [-mrl]

Spam (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

If you are reading this you probably have a PC on the Internet. That means you probably get the same spam mail that I do. Spam is the Internet's equivalent of the junk mail you get in you home mailbox. This is mail that is about as popular with PC users as zits on Prom Night. There seem to be different breeds of this spam (and numbers of items which suggest that it really is breeding prolifically and out of control). But you have to wonder just how dumb are the people who send this mail and how much dumber do they think their readers are and how cosmically stupid are the people who fall for these ads?

There is the spam message that comes from Nigeria and claims to be from someone like the daughter of the former War Minister of Nigeria. Her father was ousted by The Coup. Now she is trying desperately to smuggle forty million dollars out of Nigeria so that her family can live in style in Grosse Point, Michigan. (I guess if anybody lives in style in Michigan, Grosse Point is the place to do it.) All she needs is your bank account number so she can deposit the forty mill in your account. Right.

These messages are worth reading since there is a lot of truth in what she is telling you. They are highly educational. Usually you get some interesting tidbits of recent Nigerian history. They are details you can check up on and usually find are actually true. (Actually if there is one thing that Nigeria has a surplus of, it is facts.) That is how they convince some minimally cautious people that the rest of their silly fairy tale for the credulous is the truth. Luckily for the fraudsters the Nigerian government has a constant supply of scandals and people falling from power, many of whom really are trying to steal and smuggle large sums of money from the government, though probably not by use of spam mail.

In any case I am told that just a few years ago many Australians knew that George Washington was the first President of the United States but did not remember the first Prime Minister of Australia. Now those same people are fully conversant with who was the first President of the United States AND who is in and out in the Nigerian government AND what are the latest Nigerian scandals. But they still are not sure who was their own first Prime Minister.

The other piece of factual information in the Nigerian spam is that the sender is speaking truthfully when she essentially admits to being a human piece of slime who is trying to pull a fast one. She may be lying about who is going to get the sharp end of the fishhook, but she has been scrupulously honest about her own lack of character. Yet some people still send her their bank account numbers in the hope that she is and will remain absolutely honest and forthright in her dealings with them. Not only that, they actually plan how to get the whole mythical forty million dollars for themselves. Now, how dumb is that? And this is a true statistic: this con game and other like it constitute an industry that is somewhere in the top five most profitable industries in Nigeria.

The other kind of spam that seems to be springing up (no pun intended) is for men to increase the size of one portion of their anatomy with what we used to call meat extenders. Frankfurter Helper. The mail comes with a summary line that says "I'm leaving you for a bigger man." This is supposed to really scare you. I'm leaving you for a bigger man. This guy is supposed to be quaking in his boots. He has already had this woman to bed sufficiently for her to make a scientific comparison. Now he is hoping for a meaningful, long-term relationship. He loves her, she is interested in him. But dog-gone-it this other guy has two more bites on his knockwurst and this woman cannot resist the temptation. Not to get too Biblical here, but surely such women are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. And thank God for that wind. This guy is lucky to be finding out now what this woman is all about. If doing it revealed things like this about potential mates before a bigger mistake is made, I think it would be worth it to have the thing docked.

The real problem with spam is that to get rid of it you have to know what it is. And defining it is too much like defining science fiction. Science fiction is what I point to as science fiction. Spam is what I point to as spam. I mean we know a spam message when we see one, but think about what is there in a spam message that tells us it is a spam message. Not much. You can't just throw out every message that talks about mortgages, some people talk about mortgages in perfectly legitimate ways. There is no single email address that it comes from and the set of addresses that send spam mail are a moving target. Email does not come with a header that says that this same piece of email has been sent to 6.7 million other computer users. I think we are headed for a world in which advertising will be unavoidable. We will live soaked in a constant broth of advertising all around us. The day may come when people look at a book like THE SPACE MERCHANTS and wonder what was considered to be science fiction about it. [-mrl]

Another Mavin Heard From (comments by Bob Merkin):

Longtime friend Bob Merkin, always a provocative writer, read my choices of favorite Western films and had his own.

Best Western -- and as far as I'm concerned, Best Sound/Color Movie of All Time: "The Wild Bunch," Sam Peckinpah, 1967, starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmund O'Brien, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez.

Personal warm spot for: "Will Penny," Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett, Donald Pleasance, Bruce Dern. Ultra-realistic "small" story of an illiterate saddle-tramp who's more terrified of love and family than rattlesnakes and villains.

Magnificent adult achievement in a Western: "Bite the Bullet," Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Candice Bergen, Ian Bannen, Ben Johnson -- incredibly surprising "idea" Western with incredibly sophisticated discussions about the meaning of the Cowboy Myth to Americans -- just as the Cowboy himself was being extincted.

Delightful, thrilling sleeper, never a dull moment, completely unpredictable and compelling: "Posse," Kirk Douglas and Bruce Dern

Fascinating historical recreations, intimate and accurate looks at the true West: "True Grit," John Wayne, Kim Darby, and "Heartland," Rip Torn, Conchata Ferrell, told from the autobiographical memories of a 10-year-old girl, a year in the harsh, brutal ordeal of a Wyoming farm family around 1905.

Unique, sui generis: "Sergeant Rutledge," remarkable, electrifying tour-de-force performance by Woody Strode, as a fugitive "buffalo soldier" accused of raping a white woman. It's not easy to find an African-American actor whose legacy is a perfect record of dignity, intelligence and integrity, but that's Woody Strode!

Soft Spot for ultra-long, brain-damaged, confused movie that's still pretty damned exciting: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence," James Stewart, John Wayne, Edmund O'Brien, Lee Marvin (boo! hiss!), Woody Strode, Andy Devine

Strangest, Most Compelling Western Love Story: "Conagher," Sam Elliot, Katherine Ross

Best California Beach Western & Protracted Revenge Saga: "One-Eyed Jacks," Marlon Brando, Karl Malden

MIYAZAKI'S SPIRITED AWAY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Hayao Miyazaki gives us a masterpiece of fantasy in the anime that is as timeless as Carroll's Alice stories and enjoyable for just as wide an audience. This film may even trump THE LORD OF THE RINGS for imagination. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's premier anime director, created magical worlds (mostly) of his own in children's fantasies like MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, and PRINCESS MONONOKE. SPIRITED AWAY is an uninspired title for a long but terrifically imaginative fantasy. SPIRITED incorporates elements of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Japanese folklore, and Miyazaki's own strange imagination, all whipped together in an enchanting souffle.

Chihiro is moving to a new house and school with her parents. She has some natural worries about what it and her school will be like. But on the way her parents get lost on a drive through nearby woods and find some odd buildings of strange architecture. Exploring them they find a gateway to a strange empty set of strange buildings, perhaps a theme park. Soon Chihiro's parents have gotten themselves into trouble that even they do not realize and Chihiro is on her own to explore this strange and wondrous new world that they have inadvertently passed into. From this point the story gets stranger and more complex. It involves Japanese spirits, strange food, a guide frog, a real spider-man, and a castle full of wonders in a sort of Disneyland of the spirits. This world is as mystifying and with its own strange logic as Alice's Wonderland. Miyazaki seems to have an inexhaustible supply of ideas to fill the screen and to fill screen time. To get everything in he has made this a longish film for children, but one where they will not be bored. There is always something new and strange being introduced.

SPIRITED AWAY is a complex fantasy that should appeal to adults in much the same way Carroll's Alice stories do. For its creativity I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

PASSAGE (copyright 2001, Bantam Books, 780 pp., $6.99 pb, ISBN 0-553-58051-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

In my book review of COSMONAUT KEEP, I finished by writing:

"It will be awhile due to real life constraints, but when I finally get around to writing the review of Connie Willis' PASSAGE, you'll find out why I will vote THAT novel number one on my Hugo ballot."

Well, it was indeed a while. Real life got in the way in a big way. So, you want to know why I voted PASSAGE number one on my Hugo ballot (well, maybe you don't, but I'm going to tell you anyway).

It was the lesser of all the evils.

Yes, sad to say, I didn't think any of the four novels that I read deserved the Hugo (just as last year), but I voted anyway. And PASSAGE got my top vote.

It started out very promising. Dr. Joanna Lander, one of our two protagonists, is a psychologist researching Near Death Experiences, or NDEs for short. She joins Dr. Richard Wright, who has a way to chemically induce NDEs, in his research project to study NDEs. Joanna studies them by interviewing patients who have just coded but come back to life after having an NDE. Richard causes the NDE using a psychoactive drug and then interviews his patients as well as having all the chemical data of the brain. And, just for snicks, we have Mr. Maurice Mandrake, a nutcase who believes that NDEs are messages from the "other side", and promotes the sensationalistic angle of NDEs (for those not getting the joke, Mandrake is a quack).

Anyway, eventually Joanna herself has to go under and experience an NDE due to the lack of good candidates. What she experiences there both frightens and fascinates her. What we're told she finds there, well, there's where the whole thing becomes less than fascinating or interesting.

PASSAGE is a doorstop that didn't need to be. At 780 pages, it's padded and overbloated (as if bloated isn't bad enough). There are a ton of characters, some of which don't seem to add much purpose to the story, but yet provide fodder for many dozens, if not a hundred or so pages. Maisie is a little girl who is in and out of the hospital, and who provides Willis with one of several means to allow Lander to get the information she needs to make the deductions that she does to arrive at the "answer". I actually liked Maisie. There are other characters involved that essentially perform the same function via different means. Most are interesting, and the clues that Lander (and we) are given are interesting as well. But the whole thing seems forced.

Willis is intent on making us believe certain things that I'm not ready to believe. I guess that's okay, I suppose, but I dislike being hit over the head with a hammer. The scientific evidence that we are given seems pretty convincing - at the very least, it sure seems like Willis did her homework on this one. And I can buy what the scientific explanation of an NDE turns out to be. But the manifestation that a person sees of an NDE, Landers' in particular, is a little, well, I don't know, trite. And it took WAY to long to get there.

Yet, it was the best of the lot, in many ways, and in my opinion. So, my Hugo voting went as follows:


I apologize to all for being so late with this review. It was as hard a book to review as it was to read.

Until later. [-jak]

SECRETARY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lee, a disturbed woman who decides that she wants to be a secretary. When the new boss turns out to be a BDSM freak as neurotic as Lee herself is, she finds herself strangely attracted to the same habits that chased away all his previous secretaries. SECRETARY is a simple story but funny and fun and just wicked enough. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), 2 (-4 to +4)

First be warned. The director, Steven Shainberg, expected an NC-17 rating and was surprised when the MPAA gave the film a more innocent R-rating. But this film is a little kinky. For the right audience, SECRETARY is sly and sexy and a whole lot of fun. The film opens with Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) doing her secretarial duties with her hands chained to pole like a yoke. We then flash back to six months earlier to find Lee a very disturbed woman. Her father is a drunk, she is mollycoddled by her mother, and her habit of cutting wounds in herself until she bleeds has institutionalized her. To escape her nightmare home environment she decides to take training to become a secretary. This lands her a job. She is hired by a high-strung lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader) who is disturbed in his own ways, often more creatively than Lee is. Grey's strange quirks have made neurotics out of all his previous secretaries. Now he starts on Lee. Oddly the two sets of neuroses seem to mesh perfectly. When Lee's typing is good, her boss is effusive in his praise. But when she makes errors he is quick to punish. And thereby hangs the tale.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent as Lee. She has the facial expression of a silent film comedian. She can put on a look of "Is this REALLY happening?" on her face that is priceless. James Spader also overacts comically, but not as delicately as his co-star, but nearly as funny. Leslie Ann Warren as Lee's mother has been an attractive presence on the screen for almost fifty years.

The tale is from a story by Mary Gaitskill and a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

ATLANTIC DRIFT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Moving documentary of the fate of about 1900 Jewish refugees from Europe at the time of the Holocaust. The film is particularly damning of British policy at a time from which we usually remember only Nazi anti-Semitism. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

ATLANTIC DRIFT is a documentary covering the lives of 1880 fugitives from Hitler's tyranny in Europe who fell into tyrannical British hands instead. This film documents the struggle of a group who tried to escape to Palestine in four rickety boats, all that they could afford. The voyage would be dangerous, but not as dangerous as staying.

We see this journey through the eyes of Shlomo Haendel whose parents were on this voyage and whose father committed suicide before he was born. Shlomo knows of the journey mostly though drawings and sketches his father made during the journey.

In 1940, hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism collected in Bratislava hired four boats to take them to Palestine. Loaded absolutely to capacity, the four vessels began an odyssey that would take five years to complete. This documentary covers the journey of these four boatloads of people. The British wanted to keep the Jews out of Palestine and gave orders that at each port the boats should be delayed by being entangled in administrative procedures.

The documentary covers eyewitness accounts of just how over- crowded the boats were and struggles to get fuel. Eventually all wood on board had to be cannibalized to feed the boilers.

Finally the boats get to Haifa in time to see the refugee ship Patria, already in Haifa, sink and to see the British prevent anyone from saving the Patria passengers. The Bratislava Jews find themselves interned behind British barbed wire in Haifa, then shipped out to Mauritius where they are interned for five years more of illness and harsh treatment. One fault in the film is that it is not clear how unpleasant the years on Mauritius were, which was discussed in the question-and-answer period afterwards at the Toronto premiere. The film unintentionally makes it look almost like a pleasant tropical island.

Shlomo sees the places his father sketched and talks to survivors of the period. ATLANTIC DRIFT is a harrowing account of the rigors Jewish refugees suffered escaping the death camps of Europe. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           "Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away;     
           A single laugh demolished the right arm
           Of his country ."     
                                          -- Lord Byron

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