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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/04/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 1
Table of Contents
Science with Your Eyes Closed Redux (letters of comment and responses by Mark R. Leeper):
Kevin Meis writes:
Interesting you spoke about this, I really haven't thought of them for years but from time to time I have also experimented with the night-time visual images and recall that as a child, having been prone to nightmares anyway, they actually frightened me.
As I got older I enjoyed watching the patterns. Mine seem to be waves of light that start in one place and radiate outward and fade, similar to a "life" screensaver. I also note that if I squeeze my eyes tightly together I can get relatively bright images, sometimes even sparkles, that are probably due to the pressure on my eyeballs.
And Bill Higgins queries (by implication):
I await your Modified Leeper Scale ratings of these apparitions.
To which Mark replies:
Well, usually they are pretty dull on an absolute scale. However, 2003.05.27.23.05 was *really* cool. I am thinking of putting together financing to adapt it into a film. So far nobody has called me back. I hope I can interest someone with money before I forget what it looked like.
Who Should Document History? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got a rather interesting piece of e-mail from someone of Armenian descent. It was a comment on my review of Atom Egoyan's recent film ARARAT which was about, in part, the making of a film about the Armenian Holocaust. In that review I said that I had friends who were Armenian and friends who were Turkish. I do not want to offend either. The Armenian people talk of the holocaust inflicted on their people by the Turks in the early part of this century. Turks claim that the accounts are exaggerated. They admit the incursion but not the degree of persecution the Armenians claim. In my review I simply said I would not take a stand on this issue due to my own ignorance on the subject. My correspondent was irate that I did not immediately accept the Armenian Holocaust as history.
That puts me in a difficult position. I certainly believe that the Nazi Holocaust occurred and I have little use for those who deny it in the face of what appears to me to be overwhelming evidence. What is the difference in my attitude toward the two events? Simply put, it is the overwhelming evidence being made public and the public attention the Nazi Holocaust gets. And though a dramatic film is not really evidence of anything, films' re-enactments of historical events do bring them to the public's attention.
The film ARARAT is a fiction work about people making a powerful film about the Armenian Holocaust. To that extent it may be inaccurate. As far as I have ever heard, nobody is making such films. That is probably the film that director Atom Egoyan should have been making, and I said so in my review. Egoyan is an Armenian and should be documenting the Armenian experience. And to go a step further, my correspondent was an Armenian and also should be documenting the Armenian experience. He could be collecting stories from family members and writing them down. I think the public is thirsty for this information.
There is a frequent complaint that the film industry seems interested in the Holocaust against Jews and very little else along similar lines. I will take it a step further. I will say that it is probably the Jews in the industry who are interested in dramatizing this horrible part of the Jewish experience. But I see nothing wrong with that. Jews should be publicizing the Jewish experience. Blacks should be publicizing the Black experience. If Mongolians feel they need to publicize the Mongolian experience, they should be doing that. Egoyan should be publicizing the Armenian experience and he actually is, though he is not choosing the most direct way that he could.
I do not happen to think that the Nazi Holocaust gets too much coverage in the film industry, but even assuming it is true, how should the distribution of films be changed? Who is to say how to do that objectively? And even then, most steps in that direction tend to meet resistance from the very people that they are intended to help. Steven Spielberg, a Jew, tried to bring alive the black experience with THE COLOR PURPLE. I thought it was quite a good film. It had faults, but from my point of view it was quite moving. And being moving was precisely what it should have been doing, being a way to convey emotion. There was, however, a reaction from the Black community that a Jew should not be making films capitalizing on the Black experience. Jews should stick to films about Jews. And Spielberg took that advice. A few years later Spielberg made SCHINDLER'S LIST, which I consider a really great film.
But if Jews should not be making films about the other ethnic groups' experiences, who but Armenians should be making films about the Armenian experience? If there are major Armenian filmmakers--and Atom Egoyan is one--they are the ones who should be documenting those events that they do not want the world to forget.
And I would tell my correspondent that film is not the only medium that Armenians should use. The written word is also a powerful medium and it is accessible to nearly everybody. He should be collecting the stories and publishing them himself. Web sites are fairly accessible to the general public. Newspapers are also. Hoping that someone else will do it for him is probably being foolish. [-mrl]
28 DAYS LATER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A modestly budgeted science fiction film has society being destroyed by a virus that turns people into violent killers. While some of the ideas and some of the story seem borrowed from THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, the film itself seems freshly nightmarish. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
When a young George Lucas made AMERICAN GRAFFITI he felt he had a good sci-fi film in him. A lot of successful artists feel similarly they want to get back to the roots of their creativity and do horror or science fiction or perhaps even a comic book film. Fiction writer Alex Garland has been considered one of the most promising talents in novel-writing since he published THE BEACH back in 1997. Danny Boyle directed the jarring TRAINSPOTTING in 1996. Now the two have gotten together to make a modest horror film at the edges of the zombie sub-genre. 28 DAYS LATER has strong echoes of John Wyndham's novel THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (adapted poorly as a feature film and well as a BBC television production) and Richard Matheson's short novel I AM LEGEND (adapted into the films THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and OMEGA MAN). The film also owes a debt to "The Survivors," a good British science fiction television series rarely seen in the United States.
The story of 28 DAYS LATER involves a highly contagious virus that improbably reduces its victims to ravening killers in just twenty seconds. Society has fallen apart as the infected victims have warred on those not yet infected. Consider that the person who loves you right now can in thirty seconds be mortally determined to kill you by any means necessary. How do social relationships change? Do people become afraid to love? Is just staying alive, as one character suggests, as good as it gets? Can one still afford to be charitable to strangers? The one and only positive is that if you are not sure if a person has been infected, in twenty seconds you will know for sure.
The film opens with animal rights terrorists freeing chimpanzees that have been infected with the virus. A lab attendant discovers only a bit too late that much better security was needed to keep the virus in the lab. Flash forward 28 days later. In a scene borrowed from the beginning of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, a man comes out of a coma in a London hospital only to find the city apparently has been deserted. The hospital is in a shambles; the street is no better. As our confused patient wanders the familiar streets in his hospital pajamas he can find nobody . . . until the sun goes down. Then he finds more people than he really wanted. Eventually he hooks up with some uninfected people, but their troubles are far from over. Never explained is how a virus could possibly work to take over a victim's mind in as little as twenty seconds. It seems to be a contrivance of the premise. Equally contrived is the fact that those who have been infected seem to have a homicidal hatred of all those who are not yet infected but seem to be immune from turning on each other. They even seem to cooperate with other victims in plotting campaigns against those not yet infected.
Anthony Dod Mantle's photography stylishly reduces the view of the world to washes of ghoulish yellows and greens. The rather artificial technique of reducing the picture to lower rates of frames per second can be effective, but seems to be overused by cinematography stylists. Here it is occasionally bothersome. Still there are some scenes that, while perhaps not really being frightening, are undeniably effective. One sequence in a tunnel is certainly disquieting. The final third of the film breaks down emphasizing more action than horror.
The casting budget has also been kept low with the most familiar face being that of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as a family man caught up in the nightmare madness. Between 28 DAYS LATER and CABIN FEVER, the latter due to be released in September, this will be a much better than average year for inventive and disturbing horror films. I rate 28 DAYS LATER a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Is This SF?? Alias Considered (TV comment by Dale L. Skran):
There is a weekly TV show running that contains the following fantastic elements:? Genetic technology used to create perfect duplicates? Energy weapons? Artificial eyes? A seer that can predict the future? A super-genius who has made and hidden dozens of fantastic inventions, including, apparently, a device for extracting energy from vacuum? Immortality as an actual fact, with centuries old characters? A secret program to select genius children with spatial aptitudes and train them to be assassins at the age of 8? A beautiful but deadly female super-spy who is the first output of the above mentioned program? Her brilliant and ruthless parents, who work for opposite sides? Just about every amazing surveillance gizmo and weapon you’ve ever dreamed of? The whole show being run by a cruel yet paternalistic father figure who thinks of the beautiful super-spy as his own daughter.
Sounds like this might a TV show based on Heinlein’s novel Friday, right? Clearly sounds like SF, right? Surely something the critics will raise their noses at, right?
Wrong on *all* accounts!!!!
The above themes and ideas are all to be found in "Alias," an ABC weekly drama staring Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a girl with a really amazing aptitude for spatial puzzles and languages, besides being really athletic, who is one day recruited by the CIA. She gets trained, does well, becomes a field agent, and gets engaged. Then she decides she really needs to tell her fiancé that she is with a special division of the CIA, SD6, that is really, really hush-hush. Within 24 hours she finds him dead in the bathtub. Turns out that SD6 is really serious about folks not being told, and for a good reason – SD6 is not the CIA. SD6 is part of the Alliance, an underground group whose subdivisions are called SD1, SD2, etc. made up mainly of ex-intelligence types who trade arms and engage in other fun but highly illegal stuff. They are highly trained, well organized, and have cool toys.
She decides to go the real CIA and ends up becoming a double agent working with – incredibly enough – her father, Jack Bristow (played by Victor Garber), who is the #2 guy at SD6, and is also a double agent. Needless to say, this is all a big surprise to her – she thought he worked in some kind of international business. Her boss at SD6 is Arvin Sloan (played brilliantly by Ron Rifkin), a man at once gentle and sadistic, fanatically dedicated to the search for Rambaldi artifacts.
Up to this point we have a complicated plot, but nothing this is more than X-files paranoia combined with James Bond. Now it gets interesting. Turns out that about 500 years ago the Pope’s architect, Rambaldi, was burned for being a warlock. Turns out he had a lot of followers. Turns out he was a prophet. Turns out he has secreted dozens of weird inventions around the world, and it sure seems like he know the secret of immortality. Turns out that whoever figures out all his secrets might end up running the world.
Beneath the surface, a war rages around the world, as SD6, the CIA, the NSA, K-directorate (the Russians), and "The Man" battle for control of the artifacts. Sidney tries to balance the competing goals of (a)working for SD6, (b)working for the CIA, (c) staying alive, while (d) having a life and (e) getting closer to her rather distant, controlled father. Now, things get really interesting. At the end of season one, we learn that "The Man" is really Sidney’s mother, played by Lina Olin, long believed to be dead and known to be a KGB agent who killed the father of Sidney’s CIA handler, Michael Vaughn. Sidney’s mother ends up working with Sloan after the CIA puts the kibosh on the Alliance. Seems they share the desire to understand the secrets’ of Rambaldi. Towards the end of season two, Sloan climbs a mountain in Tibet to visit a strange monastery. Inside he finds "Conrad" (played by David Carradine), who reveals yet another layer of mystery surrounding Rambaldi, which we can only hope will be revealed in season three next fall.
This gives you some of the flavor of what "Alias" is all about.
Perhaps most amazing of all, "Alias" has generally received the Emmy nominations that "Buffy" is routinely excluded from. By and large the acting is excellent, with Sidney, her father, and her mother putting in believable, affecting performances. On some level, "Alias" is about the ultimate dysfunctional family. They are attracted and yet repelled by each other while playing a deadly game, in which it is prophesized by Rambaldi that either Sidney or perhaps her mother will bring about the ruination of the world.
One of the more interesting aspects of "Alias" is the extent to which SF has penetrated the "normal" world of TV. This has been going on for a while, as Tom Clancy created the "Techno-thriller" genre which would certainly have been billed as SF, but now is just a "thriller." "Alias" takes this even further, melding themes that are much further out than are usually seen in "Techno- thrillers" with Bond, LeCarre, and X-files paranoia. The result is tons of fun for adults (this is not a show for kids – violence, sex, torture, etc. but not gruesome either). It would certainly be interesting to know to what extent, if any, "Friday" influenced the writers involved in "Alias" as there are many parallels. I also wonder if "Conrad" is not a deliberate reference to Zelazny’s "This Immortal" – also called "And Call me Conrad."
A few more words about Sidney are appropriate. She has been trained in Krav Maga, the self-defense method of the Israeli armed forces, which can be best described as a set of refinements to Bruce Lee’s "straight blast" attack. Generally, the fight choreography fits this well. She is portrayed as a sneaky and highly capable fighter, although not invincible when facing larger, stronger, or quite numerous opponents. She also seems to have an "Uncle Scrooge" like ability to learn languages. It is a sort of running joke in Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge comics that Scrooge can speak virtually any language fluently. Sidney seems almost at this level, and sometimes it strains credulity. However, there are still a lot of questions unanswered her, including just how smart Sidney (or her father, or her mother) are really supposed to be. They certainly have genius level IQs based on their vast array of technical skills, command of languages, and strategic insight, as well as ability to act/lie. Her mother seems to have mastered a lot of oriental mind/body control techniques, including slowing her breathing, staying fit while locked in a tiny cell, being rested in odd positions, and resisting pain. Sidney was used by her father as a test subject for "Project Christmas" – a program to identify children with strong spatial abilities and train them as assassins at age 8, afterwards using unspecified techniques to suppress the memory of this training. Besides being a legendary field agent, a master of emotional control, and a strategic wizard, Jack Bristow seems to have had the spare time to develop a program for training genius children to be super-agents. Judging from Sidney, the program was quite successful.
I highly recommend Alias – there have only been a few weak episodes – and I certainly enjoy it more than "The Prisoner" (no real plot) or "The Avengers." (fun, but more parody than not).
PS: I just want to put into writing my long-term predication as to what this is really all about. I think that Rambaldi *is* one of the major characters, perhaps Sloan or Jack Bristow, and that he is trying to get the future to build a time machine so that he can go back in time and become Rambaldi. This would explain (easily) the accuracy of all his predications. If this is true, I doubt that he died at the stake, as it has been established that the technology to create a perfect physical duplicate of a person exists. In any case, with a story this complicated, any speculation is risky but fun!!! For example, for the 54th Emmys, Alias was nominated for "Outstanding Casting for Drama," "Best Lead Actress for Drama" (Jennifer Garner), and "Best Supporting Actor for Drama" (Victor Garber). [-dls]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
During our trip to Oklahoma, I read a lot of topical books. In West Virginia I read THE COALWOOD WAY by Homer Hickam, Jr., the third book in the "Coalwood" trilogy. The first two are ROCKET BOYS (made into the film OCTOBER SKY) and SKY OF STONE. THE COALWOOD WAY takes part of the period of ROCKET BOYS and expands upon it. While an authentic view of life in a coal town (and perhaps more authentic in that aspect than ROCKET BOYS), it isn't as enthralling as ROCKET BOYS. First of all, if you've read ROCKET BOYS, you know how a lot of things in THE COALWOOD WAY will turn out. And the other stories added made me feel as though the first book had been, if not censored, at least somewhat fictionalized by leaving out a lot of fairly important events. Of the three, it is the most disappointing.
Stella Suberman's JEW STORE is a memoir of the author's family's life in a small town in Tennessee, where they moved so her father could open a dry goods store. (The title comes from the name given to the dry goods stores opened in these small towns by Jews. Apparently almost every small town large enough in the South of the 1920s had one of these stores.) While it is true that Hickam's memoirs have their hard times, they at least seem to have a lot of friendship and happy events, while Suberman's story is more downbeat. Her mother was never happy in Tennessee, the neighbors never really accepted them (and they never really accepted the neighbors), the Ku Klux Klan was always a threat, and the Depression almost wiped everyone out. I was reminded of RACHEL CALOF'S STORY, the memoir of a Jewish bride brought to a sod house in North Dakota in the 1870s. That too was filled with a lot of hard work, loneliness, and misery. In JEW STORE, the misery is almost all Suberman's mother's, but it serves to drag down the entire story. For Jews (or Southerners, I suppose) this book has some interest, but I doubt others would get much from it.
I started Suzette Haden Elgin's TWELVE FAIR KINGDOMS, the first of her "Ozark" trilogy, but other than the islands on this distant planet having names similar to Arkansas and Tennessee, and a geography that is basically a mirror image of the geography here (except with islands), there seemed to be nothing Ozarkian about the society. (Oh, there were "Grannies", but the social hierarchy and structure put them in a different position than the traditional Ozark "Granny".) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: We can be knowledgeable with other men's knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom. --Michel de Montaigne
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