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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/24/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 17
Table of Contents
The Best Radio Drama Web Sites (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The last two weeks I have been writing listing radio drama sites on the Internet. This week we get the loose ends and miscellaneous sites.
DAILY SOURCES FOR RADIO DRAMA DOWNLOADS:
1. Mediabay: This seems to be another arm of Radio Spirits using the same software, pop-up windows, etc. But it does not have the same programs. The program changes daily. The source is radio station KNX in Los Angeles.
FIXED REPOSITORIES FOR DOWNLOAD
1. The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Perhaps the greatest genius of radio drama was Orson Welles. This site seems to be a complete source for everything he did on radio. This includes the famous October 30, 1938 "Panic Broadcast" based on THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, but even better is his adaptation of DRACULA.
2. Radio One Crazy Dog Live: This seems to be Ireland's answer to the Firesign Theater. These plays are pretty impressive when one realizes that they are all done live. So far they have only six. Science fiction fans will like "The Phantom Chancer."
3. Seeing Ear Theater: The web site of the sci-fi channel produces original plays and releases them on the PC. This is the site where they can be downloaded. Unless the plays are written by major SF authors, I tend to find that anyone need not fear the plays will tax the listener's intellect, particularly if they feature Star Trek actors.
4. Quiet Please: Arch Oboler created one of the better horror series of Old Time Radio. Some episodes of Quiet Please are very good mood pieces.
FOR MORE GOODIES:
I have not had the time to explore all the sites referenced in the list at the side below. If someone out there finds something good, do let me know.
SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan (Del Rey, 2003, 0-345-45528-2, $23.95) (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The high-concept tagline for this is "Sherlock Holmes enters the dark, nightmare world of H. P. Lovecraft"--how could I resist? But I will preface this review by saying that I read this (and hence am reviewing it) from the point of view of an aficionado of the Holmes mythos rather than the Cthulhu mythos.
The book has eighteen stories, with the two big-name authors (at least to me) being Neil Gaiman and Brian Stableford. The stories are arranged according to internal chronology (i.e., the year the supposedly take place), even though they are not otherwise connected (and in fact, often take place in mutually exclusive worlds).
However, the anthology does follow the publishing rule of leading with the best story, so I suspect that author was asked to set his story particularly early. And that author is Neil Gaiman, who leads off with "A Study in Emerald" and just when you think you know what's going on, he shows you that you don't. He manages, I think, to balance his emphasis on both the Holmes mythos and the Lovecraft mythos so that neither feels "tacked on" to the other, a feat not all the authors achieve. Gaiman has won two Hugos in two years, and I would say this is worthy of nomination for this year (as a short story). (I'll also note that the title, and indeed some plots elements, are taken from "A Study in Scarlet", the first Holmes story to appear in print, which supports my idea that it was always intended that Gaiman lead off this anthology.)
Elizabeth Bear's "Tiger! Tiger!" is less successful, partly because the only connection with Holmes is the presence of Irene Adler and Colonel Moran.
"The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger" by Steve Perry tries too hard to capture the feel of a Sherlock Holmes story, but the various allusions end up sounding leaden. It is really nothing more than a brief display of deduction about a visitor, followed by the visitor telling a story without any participation by Holmes. (It's a bit like "The Veiled Lodger" in this regard--and that is considered one of the weakest Holmes stories.)
"A Case of Royal Blood" by Steven-Elliot Altman needlessly involves H. G. Wells. It also fails to sound suitably Victorian. For example, at one point Holmes, in spite of only a nodding acquaintance with Wells, calls him "Herbert". In all the years of their association, on the other hand, Holmes never called Watson "John". Still, at least there is a story here, and some deduction involved.
"The Weeping Masks" by James Lowder, though dated 1890, is really just a recounting of Watson's experiences in Afghanistan before meeting Holmes. As with "Tiger! Tiger!" it is basically a straight Lovecraftian-inspired story, with a few names from the Holmes mythos hung on the characters.
In "Art in the Blood", Brian M. Stableford once again writes a story based on physiological concepts, but does so within both the Holmes and Lovecraftian milieu, and fairly successfully.
"The Curious Case of Miss Violet Stone" by Poppy Z. Brite and David Ferguson is another story in which Holmes is not really Holmes, and doubly so. Not only does he do nothing particularly Holmesian in his "investigation", but he isn't even Holmes, having been possessed by one of the Great Ones. Again, it has the names of the characters from Doyle, but not the true characters themselves.
Barbara Hambly is another major author (though not one I often read), which may be why her story, "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece", is written skillfully enough to contain enough elements of both Holmes and Lovecraft so as to be a melding of the two rather than one being predominant and the other mere accessory. It also captures a more horrific feel than some of the other stories, which is difficult to do while keeping Holmes true to his rational nature.
"The Mystery of the Worm" by John Pelan draws its premise from an actual mention in the Canon ("A third case worthy of note is that of Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and duelist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be unknown to science." ["The Problem of Thor Bridge"]), which gives it the feel of a traditional pastiche (however odd that phrase sounds). Unfortunately, too much of the story, again, is told to Holmes rather than being experienced by him.
On the other hand, "The Mystery of the Hanged Man's Puzzle" by John Finch does not have this problem. Instead, Holmes and Watson are in the action for most of the story, which seems to pay homage in a way to Victor Hugo as well.
The explanation for "The Horror of the Many Faces" by Tim Lebbon should be obvious early on, though the philosophy espoused is most un-Sherlockian. That Watson doesn't grasp it immediately is forgivable, however, because we have to make allowances for the fact that the characters in stories don't know all the genre conventions or possible premises that the author is using. (Damon Knight talks of the "idiot plot" which only works because all the characters are idiots, but I suspect he also fails to allow for the fact that characters don't realize that certain conventions are being followed. For example, characters introduced in novels turn out to be long-lost relatives far more frequently than in real life.)
"The Adventure of the Arab's Manuscript" by Michael Reaves is another treatment of the "Necronomicon" (a common theme in general and in this book), but balances the two aspects of the story very well.
"The Drowned Geologist" by Caitlin R. Kiernan does not, and is yet another story in which the names of Holmes and Watson are used, but not their essences. (One gets the feeling that some of the authors agreed to do stories for the anthology, but then realized they were not able to do the Sherlockian part well. At any rate, it seems as though if one of the two parts is lacking, it is the Sherlockian part that is omitted while the Lovecraft aspect is strong in all the stories.)
The resolution of "A Case of Insomnia" by John P. Vourlis rests on the idea that 1) a lunar eclipse is visible simultaneously in Egypt and England, and 2) it is darker during a lunar eclipse than during, say, the night of the new moon. Neither are (to the best of my knowledge) true.
"The Adventure of the Voorish Sign" by Richard A. Lupoff is much closer to the classic Doyle style than many of the previous stories, and as such is among the better in this volume.
"The Adventure of the Exham Priory" by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre was acceptable, though with a slight touch of Stephen Vincent Benet that seemed ultimately not to ring true.
David Niall Wilson and Patricia Lee Macomber's "Death Did Not Become Him" would have been better if the resolution (and for that matter part of the premise) were not based on a mistaken understanding of certain legends. (Actually, the understanding may be anachronistic as well, since the legends were not popularized until after the time period of the story. Well, okay, Holmes does have a lot of obscure knowledge, so I'll give it a pass on this part.)
The final story, Simon Clark's "Nightmare in Wax", has both Holmes and Moriarty, but only by proxy, and with an ending that seems to leave the way open for a continuation--which I suppose is fitting for the last story, but not what I'd call satisfying.
In summary, the stories here are liable to appeal more completely to a Lovecraft fan than to a Holmes one (though obviously a Lovecraft fan might disagree!). But with only seven out of eighteen stories that are reasonable as Holmes tales (the Gaiman, Stableford, Hambly, Finch, Reaves, Lupoff, and MacIntyre), I can't really recommend buying the hardcover. (It's from Del Rey, so there will almost definitely be a paperback next year.)
(I must note in passing that the art of proof-reading is dead, else the introduction would not begin with "The deerstalker hat, the pipe, the tobacco-filled slipper on the mantel . . . the image conjured, whether of Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Irons, or the reader's own conception, is unmistakable.") [-ecl]
DUNE: THE BUTLERIAN JIHAD by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2002, TOR, $27.95 HC, 619 pp., ISBN 0-765-30157-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
It just seems like Herbert and Anderson are milking the Dune franchise for all it's worth. They probably don't believe that they are, but it sure does seem like it.
I've met Kevin J. Anderson. He's a really nice guy, and a huge Dune fan, which is what prompted him to get into this thing to begin with. After convincing Brian to go along with this, and finding Frank's notes for the Dune universe, how could they not go on?
I may have mentioned this in a prior review, but I'll try to summarize it quickly. They want to write DUNE 7 - the final Dune novel that Frank was planning to write to tie off the cliffhanger at the end of CHAPTERHOUSE DUNE. And they found the notes for *that* too, so it would be easy. But rather than jump right in to DUNE 7, they thought they'd get more people interested if they started by writing the "House" prequels. So they did. I guess they then thought it would be a good idea to go all the way back to the event that gave this book its name, the Butlerian Jihad, and tell the tale of the war against the Thinking Machines that freed humanity, oh, about 10,000 years prior to the events of the original Dune novel.
It really wasn't necessary. But they did it anyway. I still think they're milking it for all it's worth, although I'm sure they don't believe that (see the almost never-ending Middle-Earth books published in the last twenty years or so as another example).
I was never really curious about the Butlerian Jihad. It was one of those "mysterious, long ago" events that make a particular universe interesting. I'd classify my interest level in this about the same as that of my interest in knowing the events that happened in 2010: ODYSSEY TWO. 2001 was mysterious, and should have stayed that way. I have way too much information about HAL now that I didn't want. Well, I have way too much information about the Butlerian Jihad now, but I guess I just don't care.
But wait. That's not to say that this is a bad book. It's just not necessarily a good one either. It's okay. If it hadn't been written, I wouldn't have missed it. And it's mis-titled. Heck, the darn Jihad doesn't start until the last hundred pages or so, and will not finish until the last book, entitled DUNE: THE BATTLE OF CORRIN, is published. They should have called the whole trilogy the Butlerian Jihad.
I guess I'm rambling.
The book opens much (but not all) of humanity already enslaved by Omnius, the network-spanning evermind that was inadvertently created by one of the Titans. You see, the Old Empire was stagnant, so a bunch of humans, who called themselves the Titans and named themselves after the old Greek gods and heroes like Agamemnon, Ajax, Juno, etc., revolted to take over and breathe new life into humanity. They then were able to separate their brains from their bodies and put those brains in mechanical canisters to give themselves infinite life by ridding themselves of the weak bodies. But one of the Titans got lazy and delegated too much responsibility to one of his computers, who became self aware and all-powerful. Thus was born Omnius. Omnius subjugated not only humanity but the Titans as well. He used the Titans to control humanity, and tied it all together with the "Synchronized Worlds", which were all the planets under his power. There was a copy of Omnius on every planet in the Synchronized Worlds, which were kept updated (synchronized!) by a ship that traveled between the worlds carrying Omnius updates. Earth was one of the Synchronized Worlds, and one of the humans on the update ship was one Vorian Atreides (I'll bet you thought there was no recognizable tie in here), son of the Titan Agamemnon.
We also follow the action on the League Worlds, where we meet Serena Butler(!) and her lover Xavier Harkonnen (there, another tie in). We also meet Tio Holzman (yet another tie in), and on Arrakis (there you go) we meet Selim (eventually Selim Wormrider), an exiled member of the group that would eventually come to be known as the Fremen. Serena leads an attack on Giedi Prime to rid it of the infestation of the Thinking Machines, which had just taken the planet over. In the attack she was captured by the Thinking Machines, and taken to Earth to be studied by the robot Erasmus. Mistaken for dead, Serena carries Xavier's child. Serena and Xavier were to be married, but Xavier marries Serena's sister Octa.
Meanwhile, the Sorceresses of Rossak (yep, the precursors of the Bene Gesserit) help the League worlds attack the Thinking Machines. Well, you're starting to get the idea, aren't you? Eventually, the whole thing comes together in the last hundred or so pages of the novel, when the Jihad actually begins via an act of Erasmus, who unwittingly set the whole thing in motion to begin with.
This really wasn't a bad book. It's far enough removed from Dune that it doesn't seem like Dune, so I really couldn't compare it to the Dune novels. It's okay, but that's all. If you're not a Dune fan, you won't care. If you are a Dune fan, you *might* care.
Wait for the paperback. Or borrow it from the library. [-jak]
MADNESS AND GENIUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
Robert Rodriguez is famous for overcoming a tiny budget to create what is essentially a polished but mindless action film. Ryan Eslinger has trumped him by on what must be a similar budget making a film that engages the viewer with ideas and one which is a cut above even most art house films. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film MADNESS AND GENIUS is that it has been a ten-year project of a director who is only twenty-two years old. He has been working on this story since he was thirteen years old. The film is set in a major University, never named. We see studies of three distinctive character types. One is Jordan, a student who can learn the material in the books, mostly by memorization, but he has no capacity for original thought. He will be a repository for other people's ideas. Nigel is the sort of student who does comprehend and love the material and is anxious to move forward and play with the ideas he is learning. In this case, however, there is some question on how far he will be able to progress since like Stephen Hawking he is also hobbled with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and will soon be imprisoned in a wheelchair. The third is Professor Frank Donovan (played by veteran character actor Tom Noonan). He is an internationally known physicist who is a little past his prime. He is behaving eccentrically. He has taken to finding five- and six-year-old children in public places and trying to explain to them complicated physics much to their bewilderment. He find himself unable to move forward with his work, not because of any technical problem, but because the next step will be a technical breakthrough that will have huge positive and negative effects on humanity, and he is not sure he wants to be the one who will let this particular genie out of the bottle.
With the exception of Donovan's cutting-edge work, all of the technical discussions in this film, and there are several, are the real thing. Even the concerns that Donovan has about his the implications of his research are what would be considered. Ryan Eslinger is the writer and director and producer on this film and with the exception of a few beginners' stylistic problems he has created an intelligent and remarkable film. Shot economically on black-and-white video with only one even somewhat known name actor he has produced a film not just acceptable but in fact very good. [-mrl]
THE TESSERACT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
Admittedly what first attracted me to this film was the title. I had played around with tesseracts as a budding mathematician. (Actually I think the film gets the definition wrong. I always heard it as simply a four-dimensional hypercube. It is to four dimensions what cube is to three dimensions. The filmmakers would have it that it is an unfolded version of a 4D hypercube. Ironically, my definition is better for their purposes. They are interested in it only as an example of a highly interconnected object. They have a highly interconnected plot.
The plot involves three apparently disconnected plot lines of three people at one cheap Bangkok hotel ironically named Heaven. There is a woman assassin for a local gang, a British drug dealer, and a psychologist who has come to Thailand to do a study of Thai children. Each has some contact with Wit, a young Thai boy who works at the Heaven as a porter. He also steals from the guests and that pulls all three guests into a single plot line.
The camerawork for the film combines a lot of extremely trendy photographic effects. There is extensive use of slow motion in scenes very imitative of the visual style and art direction of THE MATRIX with cold dark images in blue and gray. Other scenes use shots in slow motion that suddenly shifts gears and speeds up. Some scenes mute the color almost to black and white. Frames may be removed to give a jerky look. While the violence is restrained compared to Hong Kong films, it is a very violent film compared to most American films. Most of the characters are poorly developed. The film is designed to appeal to fans of guns, cars, chases, and violence. Scenes seem to be designed to appeal to high school kids. The story improves as it progresses but ends in the expected violently filmed killings. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Of interest to fans of alternate history (and of regular history, come to that) is THEY ALSO RAN by Irving Stone. Written in 1944, it tells the stories of all the candidates for President who didn't win. Well, almost all--it covers from 1824 through 1948, and does not include anyone who actually won a presidential election either before or after his loss, or any third-party candidates. The candidates are grouped by category (e.g., newspapermen) rather than considered chronologically. (This makes sense since a couple ran and lost in multiple non-consecutive elections.) Each candidate's chapter includes Stone's speculation on how good a President he would have made, and what he might have done (hence the alternate history connection). My edition is from 1966 and has a chapter on Dewey and an updated transitional section on Stevenson, Nixon, and Goldwater, though Nixon would get dropped as someone who did finally win if the book actually were updated. (It's out of print, but widely available used.)
I have been doing a lot of "popcorn" reading--short mystery stories that can fill in short periods. These include Mike Ashley's anthology ROYAL WHODUNNITS, Cynthia Manson's anthology THOU SHALT NOT KILL, and THE ANNOTATED INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN by G. K. Chesterton with annotations by Martin Gardner.
The first is one of a series of mammoth mystery anthologies by Ashley; in fact, many are called "Mammoth" (e.g., THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF HISTORICAL DETECTIVES). He has also done science fiction and fantasy anthologies (e.g., THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC FANTASY) as well as other categories, and may be the British Martin H. Greenberg. Though the forward of this book, by Paul C. Doherty, talks only about English kings (and queens), the book also include Scottish, Bohemian, Italian, and Russian royalty as well in its twenty-five stories. (I find it interesting that Morgan Llywelyn, best known for her many books about Ireland, wrote instead about Anatasia of Russia.) I got started on Ashley's theme anthologies (for so they are, with all the stories written especially for this volume) with his two on Shakespearean mysteries. I have since branched out, and find them all pretty good for what they are--basically puzzle stories with an occasional literary piece thrown in. (I miss the sort of science fiction puzzle story one used to see fifty years ago or so.)
Cynthia Manson's THOU SHALT NOT KILL has only a dozen stories, centering on clerical sleuths.
And reading the Chesterton story in THOU SHALT NOT KILL led me to re-read THE ANNOTATED INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN. I know these have their (dare I say) devout followers, but I find them far less engaging than the Holmes canon, or even the better pastiches (such as Solar Pons). In part this is because they are a very different style, but also because they seem to have underlying flaws. Gardner points some of these out in his all-too-sparse annotations. He says he is attempting to do with his annotations what Baring-Gould did for Holmes, but he fails. Most of the annotations are to give explanations of British usages that are clear from context, and little to examine other details. He does, however, point out the major logic errors in some of the stories' plots. And I find Father Brown annoying in his speech. (I also don't agree with his theology, but I don't think that is why I have a problem with the stories--I think A CASE OF CONSCIENCE a fine book.)
And in connection with this, I'll mention George Orwell's DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON. (Bear with me; there is a connection.) DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON purports to be an autobiographical work about Orwell's (Eric Blair's) young bohemian life. However, research has revealed it to be full of (at best) exaggerations as to his level of poverty and inaccurate in other details as well. What stuck me was its casual and completely un- self-conscious anti-Semitism--and here is the connection. Orwell, and Chesterton, and Agatha Christie as well, seem to have put in their writing all sorts of off-hand anti-Semitic remarks and characterizations that would seem to indicate just how pervasive that attitude was in Britain in the earlier part of the 20th century. This is ironic, because Orwell was also an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism. (I would also add T. S. Eliot to this list, but he seemed even more stridently anti-Semitic and did not have the counter-balancing attitudes of the others. Yes, he was American by birth, but English by choice.) One could write a book on anti-Semitism in early 20th century English writing, and I'm sure several have. The one book I've seen close to that subject is Montagu Frank Modder's THE JEW IN THE LITERATURE OF ENGLAND, and it goes only through the end of the 19th century. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression. -- H.L. Mencken
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