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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/21/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 38
Table of Contents
Science Fiction Discussion Group (Old Bridge, NJ):
The Old Bridge (NJ) library science fiction discussion group will be meeting Thursday, March 27, at 7:00PM to discuss H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE. Everyone is welcome--you don't have to be an Old Bridge resident. [-ecl]
Not In My Name (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching THE LORD OF THE RINGS and I heard the passage again that says it is because of Man (meaning humans) that the Ring was not destroyed. Hey, let me tell you. I have guilt trips laid on me because: I am an American, a white, a male, a New Jersey-ite, I eat meat too often, I don't eat meat often enough, I eat vegetables, I drive a car, I drive a foreign car, I live comfortably, I am (moderately) tall, I use technology, I use energy, and I watch American films. I am darned if I am going get all humble for some lousy fictional elf who blames me for his problems. [-mrl]
Boskone 40 Convention Report (announcement):
My Boskone 40 convention report is available at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/bosk40.htm and it's my longest Boskone report ever (at 116KB). Topics include:
Overthrowing the Bourgeois Hegemony of Panel Discussions Alternate MediaWorld Deconstructing the Food Pill RASFF Party Art Show Reception Strange Connections and Secret Histories Is This the Golden Age of Fantasy Movies? Adults Invade Kidlit? Did Tolkien Harm Fantasy? The One Foot SF and Horror Film Reference Bookshelf Great Civil War Alternate Histories Origami Slipstreamy Stuff What's Wrong with the Skeptical Movement These Days? Moby Dick: The Great American SF Novel? Upcoming Worldcons On Cloning What to Nominate for the Hugos Talking about Movies: Which DVD Commentaries Are Worth Listening To The Politics of Literary Acceptance Savage Humanism Autographing: David Brin The Worst Program Item Ever When Good Writers Go Bad[-ecl]
Bollywood 101A (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A reader wrote to me about my review of DEVDAS, a Hindi film. In the resulting discussion I talked a little about Hindi films in general. It occurred to me that I haven't said much in this notice about the rising popularity of so-called Bollywood films. These days fairly frequently one sees a Hindi film playing at some local theater. I am told that Hindi films are even bigger in Britain than in the United States, and that they are starting to make inroads with a non-Indian audience even here. (I am a non-Indian and they are making inroads with me.) Some Bollywood filmmakers are now even making films with an international audience in mind. I am not talking about art film makers like the late Satyajit Ray. His films were always made for international release. But the neighborhood films, which can be a lot of fun, are now also frequently made for international audiences and some get released over here.
First of all what am I talking about? Does India even have a film industry? You bet they do. For those who are unaware it is the biggest film industry in the world. They output about 800 feature films a year, two films for every film released by Hollywood. And these are longer films. Most are in the 160-minute range. The center of the Hindi film industry is Bombay or "Mumbai" as insiders call it. Bombay is their equivalent to Hollywood and the "Bombay Hollywood" is called "Bollywood." They sell tickets to 14 million movie patrons in an average day. That is considerably more people than live in Pennsylvania. That is just the Hindi film industry. There are lower-profile film industries making films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. But the Hindi films have the widest audience within India and so the filmmakers can afford to mount opulent productions to recover costs.
For many Indians, films are the only forms of entertainment. Movie theaters range in quality from little neighborhood ramshackle affairs to some pretty impressive movie palaces. (The most fabulous movie palace I have ever seen is the exquisite Raj Mandhir in Jaipur. In my India trip log, I say "The Raj Mandir is an impressive building, with mirrored interiors, pink decor, and rounded rampways to higher floors. It might even rival Radio City Music Hall. It's a combination of art deco and Hindu statues (well, 'mandir' does mean 'temple'), with lots of pink glass thrown in. With a capacity of about 1300 people, and a screen about twenty-five feet high and fifty feet wide, this is the *big* screen experience, this is not your local movie theater the size of your living room.")
Are the Hindi movies any good? That is a very interesting question. Certainly some are. The vast majority are made purely for entertainment. They are a way for Indians to shed their troubles and have a good time. Indians love musical production numbers and just about every films regardless of subject matter will have at least three and most will have as many as six or seven. The plot stops cold and instead they have a knock-your-socks-off dance number. And these are rarely just two people standing still and singing. There will be extravagant costumes, and maybe several dancers.
Nearly every film will have comic elements, though a few filmmakers will try to keep those to a minimum. The music and the comedy are elements that Indians look for and expect. BOMBAY is a serious film about the Bombay riots. There are some fairly harrowing violent scenes toward the end of the film. Yet it starts out as a comedy and a musical with a Hindu boy dressing up as a girl to woo a Muslim girl. The musical comedy is part of the artistic form of the Bombay film. You might as well write a four-line limerick as make a Bombay film without songs and jokes.
Additionally, another factor is differences in taste between Indians and non-Indians. What is good for an Indian audience is not necessarily what plays well with an American audience. While some Hindi films may look like they are aimed at children, Indian audiences will just eat them up. There are just differences in predisposition. On the other hand, when I saw ASOKA at a film festival, I was much impressed with the expensive look of the picture and the historical adventure. Asoka was an Indian conqueror who did much to spread the faith of Buddhism in India. This was sort of a melodrama based on the history. Some of the dance numbers seem a little modern for the period, but the film is glossy and a lot of fun. The film did not play nearly as well with Indian audiences, most of whom knew the history and knew this wasn't it. Incidentally, the film starred Shahrukh Khan who seems to be very popular at the moment. I suppose he looks something like Tony Curtis did in his youth. His acting is no better than Curtis did but his looks do sell tickets. Khan is currently in something like five new films a year. If you go to Indian video stores it is hard to avoid his face on boxes and posters. Khan is also the star of DEVDAS as well has having an important role in HEY RAM.
I will have more to say about Bollywood next week. [-mrl]
TEKNOLUST (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This film plays like a throwback to 1960s mod filmmaking. It is every bit as colorful as intended but not nearly as intelligent. It plays like a college skit but for the digital special effects that allow four Tilda Swintons on the screen at one time. This one requires a lot of patience and does not give back much in return. It is nice to see Tilda Swinton, a talented actress, having a good time, but I would rather see her getting back to work. Rating: 3 (0 to 10), -1 (-4 to +4)
Tilda Swinton gets an opportunity to play four characters, frequently all on the screen at the same time in this colorful but poorly thought-out attempt at a science fiction comedy. A scientist downloads her own DNA into a computer program and with self-reproducing automata creates three versions of herself in a computer. They somehow have the ability to jump out of the computer and to walk around as real humans. It is not clear anyone associated with the production understands what a self-reproducing automata is. Nor do they understand much of the other science alluded to in the script. Instead this film is really closer in style to a tall tale. TEKNOLUST is intended to be whimsical with a sort of Pop Art view of the science fiction issues, though more often the humor fails. The bright colors and somewhat vacuous scripting reminds one of the mod filmmaking of the 1960s.
Scientist Rosetta Stone (Swinton) creates in a computer three computer images of herself (called self-replicating automatons, SRAs, though they never actually replicate in the course of the film). Each has a key color, dresses in that color, lives in a room of that color, and has a name that suggests that color. The programs have a life of their own and can leave the computer. If that makes little sense, it is not expected to. Technical issues are pretty much ignored but for the occasional throwing in of a misunderstood technical term exploited in much the way James Bond uses "Project Grand Slam."
Swinton, who plays four roles, three of them as computer programs, can be a fine actress with her best known films being ORLANDO and THE DEEP END. Here she got a chance to take a break from serious acting and play with digital technology. Her acting is usually a little staid and almost deadpan, in this film it is actually wooden, though that is probably a consequence of a process that has her talking to thin air where a digital image of herself will later be placed. Probably the best similar acting job under those conditions was Jeremy Irons in DEAD RINGERS. Swinton is nowhere near as accomplished at the same task, but perhaps the director was also less demanding. The timing of these self-conversations is poor with pauses just a beat too long between a line and its response. That makes them easier to mesh but less spontaneous sounding. The film was written, produced, and directed by Lynn Hershman-Leeson.
This is a film with smirk, a sly nod, and a wink to the audience saying, "We know this is all pretty silly stuff and we are laughing right along with the audience." The problem is that the audience isn't laughing. I rate TEKNOLUST a 3 on the 0 to 10 scale and a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SEPARATION by Christopher Priest (Scribner UK, ISBN 0-743-22033-1, 464pp, #10.99) (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This is the book that everyone is talking about--well, everyone who has seen it. Unfortunately, that's not a huge audience, nor does it appear likely to become one. This is not because THE SEPARATION is a bad book, however. It's a very good book--but very unmarketable.
Christopher Priest earlier wrote a novel, THE PRESTIGE, about twins, and magical bilocation, and other related concepts. Priest revisits this somewhat in THE SEPARATION, with two twins, Joe and Jack Sawyer. Both are called "J. L. Sawyer", which leads to confusion, especially as they have enough similarities to promote this confusion. For example, they were both in Berlin in 1936 as a rowing team at the Olympics.
But when war comes, they go their separate ways. Joe becomes a conscientious objector, and Jack becomes a bomber pilot. (This leads to one confusion when someone in the government conflates the two and tries to figure out how a conscientious objector could also be a bomber pilot.) Each becomes involved with well-known historical characters--or possibly their doubles. (And, no, Field Marshal Montgomery wasn't one of them.)
All this would be relatively straightforward were it not for the fact that the events of the novel are taking place in at least two alternate universes, possibly three, or even more. The novel begins in a world in which an author is researching a history book in a world obviously not ours. He gets a manuscript from someone which purports to be true, yet describes a world or timeline which seems to be ours. (This is made a bit more confused by the fact that its narrative is told in reverse sequence, something like the film MEMENTO, though for different reasons.) Then there are some documents which seem to span the timelines, and then another narrative in yet another timeline.
Believe me, you *will* want to take notes.
(I read the book, then immediately re-read it, taking notes, discussed it with a friend who had read it, and then went back and re-read parts again.)
(I will note that I said of THE PRESTIGE, "This is a book that you cannot read only once. As with a stage magic trick, there is a compelling desire after seeing the trick to go back and see if one can figure out how it was worked.")
If this book is so enthralling (which it is) and well-written (which it is), why do I think it won't find a huge audience? Well, it appears unlikely to get a major publisher's release in the United States, perhaps in part because the story is completely British. Not only are all the characters British (or German), but the story centers around the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, two aspects of World War II which do not have the appeal in the United States that other, later parts of the war do. Even in Britain, it seems to have gotten a rather small release.
I realize it seems as though I have told you a lot of the plot, but I have given you only a brief outline and left most of the major events out. I highly recommend this book, though if you are in North America, you will have to order it from amazon.co.uk or other British bookshop unless you're lucky enough to have a specialty shop near you that is willing to take the risk to carry it. (I can't seem to find it in Canada, my first choice for ordering British books, as the exchange rate and shipping are both cheaper.) Luckily, it has gone back for a second printing after being basically unavailable due to a very small, trade paperback only first printing.
I also said of THE PRESTIGE, "This is a magical book, and the one mystery is how it's managed to remain as invisible as it has, especially given that it won the World Fantasy Award." At least THE PRESTIGE had a United States publication. I think Priest's problem is that his works are too literary to be marketed to the audience that buys the vast bulk of science fiction, and too fantastical to be marketed to a mainstream literary audience. (As Ellen Asher noted at Boskone, publishers don't necessarily publish what will sell, but what they know how to market.) I'm sure people from both sides will attack this position, but THE SEPARATION seems to me a book that should appeal to the same people who read Frances Sherwood or Michael Chabon--to pick two authors I've read recently--but publishers don't know what to make of it. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Elsewhere in this issue is my review of Christopher Priest's THE SEPARATION. Soon to come is a review of Elizabeth Moon's THE SPEED OF DARK.
Once again, my library discussion group chose a book I had read before: Homer H. Hickham, Jr.'s ROCKET BOYS (made into the anagrammatic movie OCTOBER SKY). This is the autobiographical story of how the author, a boy from a coal mining town where football was the only way anyone had ever gotten to college, won the National Science Fair and went on to become a genuine rocket scientist. Hickham has a very readable yet still evocative writing style as he describes life in a coal company town where even the minister is hired by the company. (He describes how they were at various times Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal, because those were the ministers hired. I guess dogma didn't count for much.)
What struck me this time was how so much depended on circumstance and chance. Had Hickham not had a supportive high school science teacher, he probably would have ended up mining coal. And if he hadn't had the friends he did, with the talents they had, he might still have ended up mining coal. But even more so, had he not been there in Coalwood, his friends would definitely have ended up mining coal. (Well, maybe not Quentin.)
This is now the first of a three-book triptych, the other two being SKY OF STONE (about his return to Coalwood as a miner one summer during college), and THE COALWOOD WAY, which I'm planning on reading during our trip through West Virginia this summer. (We may end up visiting Coalwood, time permitting, though it's not exactly on the beaten path.)
Another book in a series was Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone's WARMLY INSCRIBED, the third in their series of books about book collecting and the used book trade. (The first two are USED AND RARE and SLIGHTLY CHIPPED.) This deals with a lot of topics, the centerpiece of which is the "New England forger," who forged authors' signatures in first editions for a long time before he was finally caught. The story of why it took so long is the interesting part: law enforcement officials kept saying it wasn't in their jurisdiction, dealers hesitated to accuse another dealer of such dishonesty without firm proof, and dealers who had been deceived and had resold the books thinking they were authentic were generally not eager to contact their old customers and admit they had been deceived. (And refunding the money to customers was not necessarily easy for dealers who did not have a lot of ready cash.) But the story of the Goldstone family visit (including young daughter) to the Library of Congress and the Folger Library is also enjoyable, particularly for book people. And why would you be reading this article if you weren't a book person? [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand. -- Leonardo da Vinci
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