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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/07/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 36
Table of Contents
The Wandering Jew? (comments by Mark R. Leeper): I was a little puzzled by a comment in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE that said that the passengers on the last rocket off from the planet before Earth is destroyed would be chosen by Lot. Admittedly he has experience escaping from places that are about to be destroyed, but do they really think he is still alive? [-mrl]
Me, I'm a Rube (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Boy, I have to tell you those guys are out there. You know who I mean. The guys with the half-smiles on their faces. Friendly guys. Guys who want to guide you to all the goodies. That's how they seem. They know there are really two kinds out there, the guys who eat the chicken dinner and the guys who get plucked, if you know what I mean. Those guys with the half smiles are the ones are the ones who are going to need the toothpicks; I'll tell you. They always have some angle and they always have an edge. In the Army they always have a dice game or card game going, they always win, and they roll with their own dice or their own deck of cards. They find some rube with money and they just pluck him clean. Oh, you know what a rube is. A mark, a sucker, a chump. A loser.
You know who the guys with the half smiles are. The sharpsters. Boy, I'll tell you they are out there. One city that is full of them is Detroit. It must be the cars. Anything having to do with cars attracts sharpsters. Cars somehow attract the guys with the half smiles. The auto-mechanic who changed your oil and just happened to notice your car has something really wrong and is going to need a lot of work real soon. The used car salesman who is going to do you a favor and sell you this car because he likes you. There is the new car salesman who wants to give you a good price, but he will have to get his boss to agree. They all have an angle. They all have a game.
I think Vegas is thought to be full of sharpsters. I can tell you Detroit is full of them. New York is full of them. The stock market is full of them. There are financial advisors with half smiles. You can't know how to play every game and there is always some game where you are the rube. Law school students seem to learn the half smile about the same time they take Contracts 101. They find out how to be the lawyer who wins the case and the settlement ends up in his bank.
Back when I worked in Detroit it was the football pools. Old Marty was a piece of work. "You know," Marty would say, "we ought to have a little fun with a pool on this weekend's games." "Doesn't interest me." "C'mon, Mark, why don't you try it? One of us is going to have a pocket full of money. It might be you." "I can't try it, I don't know anything about football." "Everybody has an equal chance." "You think I'm going to get into a game where I don't know anything about the teams?" "You don't have to know anything. That's the point-spread system. Nobody knows anything. Townsend thinks he knows something about football and he loses most weeks." "What does that prove?" "It's all just a matter of luck. That's why the point-spread system was created. You could get lucky." "Yeah, so you say, but I have Luck of Leeper." "What's that?" "For something like this it is all bad." "C'mon. Your luck has to be good sometime." "Perhaps, but I'm not going to bet when other people know more than I do about the game." "You can't win if you don't play." "Yeah and you can't lose either if you don't play." Somehow Marty always seemed to do just fine on the football pools. I know I have Luck of Leeper. That means I have bad luck on small things and good luck on big things. Things that are really important I do pretty well with. But I never put a nickel in a slot machine.
Whenever the programmers in the Order Entry Group--that was my group in Detroit--got together for a party there was Marty the sharpster in the back of the room playing cards with three other guys. Marty usually came out with a good deal more than he came with.
Anyway, you know how these football pools and just about everything else is. Somebody wins, somebody loses. The guys with the half smiles want to win. Somebody has to put the money into the game if they are going to win. That's the rube. The guys with the half smiles know which of us are sharpsters and which of us are the rubes. Me, at least I know which I am. I am a rube.A rube can't win. A rube is not lucky. But if he knows he is a rube he can cut his losses. And he can do that only if he knows he is a rube. The thing is that a lot of the rubes think they are the sharpsters. They get to thinking big. All they need is to find the right game and the right rube. That is all they need is to find someone like me.
Nature has no more vicious law than the law of conservation of dollars. Every dollar someone makes is a dollar that someone else loses. Marty from Detroit knew that. But I knew it too and I also knew I was a rube.
So whatever happened to old Marty? He was going to be a big executive. Somehow he never got to be more than a supervisor. He got divorced in the late 1970s and I think never married again. He had girlfriends after that. He did make supervisor eventually. Now I hear he's looking for work. Frantically. Something like two hundred resumes out. Like me he has no kids, but he still was not ready to be out of a job. I'm sure he will find some job. He's smooth. He had put a lot of money into a company (401)K during the 1990s. You know that story. The bubble burst and old Marty had almost nothing. People who knew him say he's really bitter about how the company shafted him. No wife. No job. Not much money. I think someone else a little higher up in the company may be wearing the half smile these days.
Me? I'm in pretty good shape, thanks. With Luck of Leeper I make out pretty good on the big things. I didn't have a whole lot invested in company stock. I figured I really didn't know the market very well. I knew my luck (always bad on small things, good on the big things) and I knew my knowledge (not much with stocks) and I know what I am. Me, I'm a rube. [-mrl]
DAREDEVIL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: DAREDEVIL is an uninspired comic book superhero film that borrows everything, and invents and contributes almost nothing. It is an uninspiring actor playing an uninspired idea for a superhero in a familiar setting. It feels like it was stamped out at a factory. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)
A friend convinced me several years ago to read some issues of the comic book "Daredevil" because the character is really something special. He was sort of an American Zato Ichi. They did not grab me at the time, but at least I accepted that they were something novel and different. I think you have to be an expert to find something novel and different in the film DAREDEVIL. And you will need a magnifying glass. The things that make this character unique are far overshadowed by the things that make him so much like other superheroes. And the film does everything it can to minimize those few differences. The character is blind and so he uses his other four senses, particularly hearing, to overcome his blindness. This would have been a good opportunity to somehow use sound to portray this ability. Do they? No. Instead, director Mark Steven Johnson shows visually what Daredevil is hearing. Daredevil's hearing gives him a sort of grayed-out vision. Now Daredevil sees things a little differently but has sight like other superheroes do. More pertinent, the different way of seeing never is an issue when he goes into action. He is just so-o-o good, that that his blindness is an irrelevancy. The film has eliminated what makes Daredevil unique.
Ah, but maybe he is unique because of dark psychological forces he cannot control. You see his father whom he loved more than anything in the world was murdered by baddies and now Daredevil, played by Ben Affleck, has a fire in his belly for revenge. But wait a minute. Didn't Batman lose his parents to bad guy criminals? In fact, Batman lost both of his parents. And the concept of "Ben Affleck rage" is as hard to swallow as "Woody Allen machismo." Through this barely noticeable rage Matt Murdock ponders the question of whether he is more DareDevil or DaredEvil. But conflicted heroes are nothing new either.
Ah, but what about those great visual images? Daredevil is the master of a dark and brooding city . . . like the one we saw in BATMAN. He seems frequently to pose for dramatic effect like Batman does. And his costume is not even very good. He wears a red suit that looks like it came from a fetish party and headgear that is supposed to make him look like a devil. Oooo! Scary. From a distance it looks like Batman's cowl and close up it looks like something from a French comic opera. Does anybody really find the image of a red devil with horns frightening?
The film explains why Matt Murdock has heightened senses due to the wonderful magic of radioactive mutation (like the stuff that made Spider Man what he is). It does not explain how he is able to dive twelve stories off a building and stop his fall by grabbing onto a wire without breaking the wire or ripping off his arms. And that is not to mention how he knew the exact placement of the wire from twelve stories up. Oh, yes. I guess he must have heard it.
The plot is pretty bland. Matt Murdock, alias Daredevil (Ben Affleck), has a vendetta against the man who killed his father. That quest brings him up against the crime lord Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) whose chief enforcer is Bullseye (Colin Farrell), a killer who can toss objects with perfect aim and who has a bullseye branded on his forehead where it seems like an invitation in a fight. Meanwhile, Murdock meets the beautiful and very obviously mammalian Elektra (Jennifer Garner). They court primarily by trying to kill each other sparring with martial arts. Attempting to rein back Murdock is his law partner Franklin Nelson, played by Jon Favreau, who looks a little formless in his suit. In the background trying to prove Daredevil exists and trying to unmask him is the reporter Urich (Joe Pantoliano).
The script has several additional problems. Unlike Clark Kent, Mike Murdock is a super-klutz at keeping his secret identity secret. I have never seen a superhero's secret identity be revealed so many times in a film, but as the script contrives everybody has his own reason for not telling the world. That is not very good writing. And an action script is in real trouble when the climax of the film is a crotch kick.
There are, admittedly, a few ways that that this film swims against the tide. Most superheroes these days frazzle the villain to the point the villain accidentally kills himself. (Take another look at SPIDER MAN if you don't believe it.) Daredevil actually kills villains. Another nice touch is that a black man plays the major villain. Meaty villainous roles (in this case perhaps literally) rarely go to blacks, probably as a sort of political correctness gone awry. Michael Clarke Duncan is magnetic as Kingpin.
In his angst Daredevil asks himself the question "Can one man make a difference?" And I think the film answers inspirationally with a resounding "Yes, one man with radioactive mutant super-powers can make a difference." I think that is a message we all needed in these troubled times. Still I rate DAREDEVIL only a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
SAMARITAN by Richard Price (book review by Tom Russell):
This is a straight detective story - no science fiction. But it might be interesting to MT VOID people who are into writing techniques, or who believe that grammar rules may be a subtle form of mind control.
In Richard Price's newest novel, SAMARITAN, the reader soon discovers what appear to be punctuation errors in the text. Price has taken license to achieve more realistic dialogue than is possible within the rules.
If that assertion bothers you, hang in there.
Here's a condensation of Steven King's back-cover comments: "Price's ear for dialogue ... is utterly amazing ... Yeah ... that's how people act and talk ..."
The story takes place in the present time in an inner-city housing project. Here the detective is trying to befriend the vic: "Last December, right before Christmas? Me and my partner we get caught up in a job up in the Heights, some old Irish lady, her live-at-home son had broke her nose, right? So we bring her here, but we can't find the son..."
Later in the book there is a debate over whether a killing was self defense. The cop goes: "He. Was. Murdered."
That gets the emphasis just as Price wants. It can't be written any other way.
I'm also reading up on the human mind - consciousness - neuroscience - stuff like that, and have formed a start of an idea that human consciousness is the ability to put base thoughts and plans into language. Try to think without using words, if you doubt me. So grammar rules are a form of mind control. SAMARITAN is liberating.
SAMARITAN has two minor ties to MT VOID. The samaritan, that is, the mugging victim, is a born-again high school writing instructor whose students don't do much reading let alone writing. Beginning on page 301 Price has him looking at his small collection of science fiction books, debating with himself over which ones to lend to one of his students who has read some Steven King and Michael Crichton. DRACULA? No. FRANKENSTEIN? No. (Having myself tried to read FRANKENSTEIN, good decision.) The other MT VOID link is the two-paragraph science fiction fantasy (OK, it's a sex fantasy) story written by one of the kids for a creative writing homework assignment.
I put SAMARITAN aside when I found John Case's latest book THE EIGHTH DAY on the library's new book shelf. Why did I go back to SAMARITAN? Not because I wanted to learn who the perp was. Certainly not for the profanity nor the other non-PG stuff. Probably because it's a good read - a couple of times Price made me laugh out loud.
Oh, and you know those squiggly red and green lines that Bill Gates puts under your text? Mind control. [-tlr]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As a judge for the Sidewise Award for alternate history, I get a lot of alternate history books. I also get some that the publisher thinks *might* be alternate history, or at least might be construed as such. (And, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden noted at Boskone, if a particular category is popular, publishers will do what they can to market marginal material in that category.) So I received N. M. Browne's "Warriors of Alavna" as part of a three-book shipment from England's Bloomsbury Press, none of which were precisely alternate history. All were what I would describe as young adult historical fantasy. In "Warriors of Alavna", the two protagonists, teenage students on a field trip to Hastings, get drawn back in time to Roman Britain, but also over to a parallel world in which magic works, and the historical characters are slightly different (though not noticeably). As a young adult historical fantasy, it's fine for twelve- to fourteen-year-olds, though perhaps better for Britons who understand the early history of their island than for Americans. (In passing, I will note that while I find it unlikely that the female protagonist could pass herself off as male for several days while marching and camping with a half-dozen male warriors, there is at least an implied explanation of why she can carry this out for a much longer time without other feminine issues intruding.)
The book that was most strongly put forward as alternate history was Mary Hoffman's "Stravaganza: City of Masks". Well, it does take place in an alternate Venice in a world in which Remus won out over Romulus rather than vice versa. But there is also travel between this world and our own by "stravagantes" using magical means. The protagonists are again teenagers, a few years older than those of "Warriors of Alavna", one from each world. And again we have the girl masquerading as a boy, though not for very long. It's basically a straight historical fantasy, reminiscent of Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, or even Joan Vinge's "Snow Queen", and I would recommend it in that category. It's not as British as "Warriors of Alavna", but like that book, available only in Britain (and possibly Canada).
Another import of sorts, though published by Indiana University Press, is Jose Luis Sanz's "Starring T. Rex!" Sanz is a professor in Madrid, and the book was first published in Spain, then translated and published here. (The translation is adequate, though occasionally there is an awkward turn of phrase, and I noticed at least one "bare" where "bear" was intended.) The book is a look at how the various theories about dinosaurs reflected the sociological and philosophical climate of their times. (For example, early theories tried to fit dinosaurs into a Biblical universe.) But a large part of the book is devoted to dinosaurs in popular culture--books, movies, and even advertising. Sanz is a lover of categories, categorizing the ways dinosaurs are portrayed in fiction as "The Synchrony of Humans and Dinosaurs", The Myth of the Lost World", "Frozen Dinosaurs", "Time Travels", "Dinosaurs of the Future", and "Exodinosaurs". and in addition to the authentic dinosaurs of more recent films, there have been -paradinosauroids" (a mix of different theropods and sauropods; e.g. the Rhedosaurus in "The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms"), "sauriodinosauroids" (lizards passed off as dinosaurs; e.g., "Journey to the Center of the Earth"), "dragodinosauroids" (a man in a suit; e.g. Godzilla). (One wonders if this was the original word in Spanish, as it seems to come from the English-language phrase "to dress in drag.") It also has a lot of nifty stills and posters from movies, and illustrations from books.
I also finished "24 Favorite One-Act Plays" edited by Bennett Cerf and Van H. Cartmell. These may be *their* favorite plays, but many of them are completely fprgotten today. Then again, one-act plays don't lend themselves to the sort of theater one finds today, except maybe in pairs or trios by a local theater group. There was even a Lord Dunsany play ("The Jest of Hahalaba"). (I looked this up on amazon.com and discovered that the same collection is now listed as edited by Van H. Cartmell as the primary editor.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy. -- John Updike
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