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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/07/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 19
Table of Contents
Doing the Right Thing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I feel another political editorial coming on. These are not my most popular editorials. Most people are more positive on the humorous ones. Occasionally the political ones embroil me in long debates. I try to save them for when I think there is something that really needs to be said.
I would like to commend George W. Bush for doing the right thing. The set of issues on which I agree with Bush is very tiny. I think his policies have been a disaster for this country. But that is not what I would like to write about today. It is about an issue that I know very few people who agree with me. Those who do are generally firmly in the Bush camp. I do not like Bush, but I have to say that I am proud of the United States for going to war in Iraq.
The regime that was removed from Iraq actually needed to be removed. It is now clear that there were incredible atrocities being committed by Saddam Hussein's family and party against innocent people. The United Nations, France, and Russia apparently knew it was going on and for political reasons chose to ignore it.
Friends and relatives alike have responded to this statement by asking the same question. Why should America be the only country take action to stop the atrocities? Shouldn't the United Nations or the European community have gotten involved? The answer is, of course, yes. It is not right that the United States is the only country willing to go in and end the bloodbath. The fact that Russia and France and the United Nations opposed action against Iraq simply reflects on those bodies. The United States should not have had to go in unilaterally (or nearly so). But given the choice of only one country standing up or none at all, the proper choice is that we do the right thing.
The next question I am asked is whether the United States should be policing the world? Are we going to send troops wherever there is someone being oppressed? The answer is that you have to do what you can.
These questions of where does the United States want to get involved always raise in my mind the case of Kitty Genovese. This was a notorious incident in which a bar waitress was returning to her apartment and was attacked and stabbed by a man. Neighbors opened their windows and yelled for the man to go away. He did go away only to return. Other neighbors yelled and again he went away only to return. On the third attack he succeeded in killing Genovese. The neighbors had seen it happen, but none wanted to risk getting involved. Nobody called the police until it was too late. Later, explanations were given like "I'm not the police and my English speaking is not perfect."
If one person had taken a little responsibility and called the police after the first or even the second attack, the police would have been on the scene in time to save a life. But nobody did feel that responsibility. Nobody wanted to get involved.
Whether the community is a one of neighbors or of nations each member has a personal responsibility to do the right thing. It may be unfair. It may be that every other member will shirk it responsibility and act in its own interest. And that is a matter between them and their consciences. The right thing to do was to remove Saddam Hussein from power even if it is at the risk of having to do it unilaterally. Even at the risk of the condemnation of a world community of countries that are each acting in self-interest the United States should do what is right. To do otherwise is hypocrisy. [-mrl]
Free Books On-line (letter of comment from Ed Keighron):
One of our readers sent me this mail. It is self-explanatory.
Hi Mark, I am sure you already knew, but on the off chance you didn't, I found this last week: http://www.baen.com/library/ It's the Baen free electronic library. I have most of the books offered in paperback, but I found it convenient to have electronic copies on my palm5 so I could read easily at the doctors' office or on lines at the store. Just a heads up. :-) One of the loyal readers of the MT-VOID, Ed Keighron
I also carry something on the order of 30 novels on my palmtop as well as a bunch of current articles to read when I have nothing else to do, like waiting in lines. My novels are mostly public domain fiction from Project Gutenberg. Usually they will be something by A. Merritt or some other quality writer of that period. This stuff is free for the taking, but you need to read it off a computer or a portable device like a Palm Pilot or a palmtop.
If people would like more information of how to find A LOT of good writing free on-line, let me know and I will write up an article explaining. [-mrl]
CRAWLERS by John Shirley (Del Rey, November 2003, 0-345-44652-6, $14.95) (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
"Twelve yards horizontally, two in the air, the crawler leapt--soared!--and came down on Lance, smashing him onto his back so hard the bones of his chest exploded from his sides. Everything Lance would have screamed with was crushed, and he only made a silent scream with his open mouth."
According to the IMDB John Shirley is considered the "most punk" of the cyberpunk authors. He has played with rock bands Sado- Nation, The Panther Moderns, Terror Wrist, and Obsession. He co- authored the screenplay for the successful horror film THE CROW. He is also known for his cyberpunk novels like CITY COME A-WALKIN' and DEMONS. But the best thing I can say about CRAWLERS is that it does not seem to be cyberpunk. It is set in a small town and the language is not explosive. The plot just is not very new. At all.
A science project combining evolution and nanotechnology has gone terribly awry. It has created creatures that are part animal and part metal that have incredible abilities. They killed their inventor and now use these abilities mostly to take more animals over and make more things like themselves. The government has the presence of mind to put them all in a rocket (how?) and send them into orbit. Not quite three years later the satellite falls back to earth. (Not much of a satellite.) It crashes into a small town of Quiebra. (Quiebra is Spanish for "fissure" or "bankruptcy." I wonder which one was meant? It's nice that it returned to its country of origin.) Now the things are loose and taking over first animals and then people. The people of Quiebra don't want to believe it, but their town is in big trouble.
If this all sounds a little formulaic, so is the rest of the book. So we have the small isolated town that has some sort of science fiction threat. It is the first line in something that could destroy the world. And a bunch of young adults are all that stands between IT and US.
I guess the question I would ask is this: Isn't there enough of this stuff on the Sci-fi Channel without paying to read it in a book? [-mrl]
LOVE ACTUALLY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
I hate to be the Grinch on this one, but it is just a trifle too saccharine. It is, in fact, just a big sappy valentine for Christmas. It tells eight (or so) different love stories that take place in the weeks before Christmas and they come to their mostly wonderful denouements on Christmas Eve. The stories also connect up at the same time. How wonderful it is to have so many characters happily in love at Christmas time.
Emma Thompson is a wife with a husband who might just be on the verge of fooling around. Laura Linney is a professional woman in love with a co-worker but who seems too glued to her cell phone to make time for love. Colin Firth is a writer with a mutual attraction to his housekeeper though neither speaks the other's language. Hugh Grant is the new Prime Minister of Britain who dances around 10 Downing Street like Tom Cruise in RISKY BUSINESS. Liam Neeson plays a widowed stepfather trying to help his ten- year-old over a case of first love. There are the two porno actors who spend the day working naked together simulating sex, but... Well, you get the idea.
This is a polished film with only one rough edge, a small slam at American politics. Billy Bob Thornton, in his first suave role, plays a somewhat flawed American President. That roughness may be filed down by the time it plays in the United States. One potential rough edge has Bill Nighly playing an old and fading pop star who peppers his public appearances with bad boy vulgarity. But he turns out to be the only really memorable character in the film.
If all this niceness of love and Christmas is not enough the film is peppered with performance of old and popular songs to make this the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Little lapses in logic are peppered throughout to delight the audience. (At a wedding the brass section of the band are seated scattered among the guests, instruments ready, but nobody seems to have noticed. Later, when it suits, Heathrow airport security comes off as incredibly sloppy and lax.)
This is Richard Curtis's first time directing, but he has written this and some very popular previous films including FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, NOTTING HILL, and BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY. LOVE ACTUALLY is in turns touching and affecting and then sugary. This film is a reminder that love is wonderful for those who need or just want to be reminded. [-mrl]
CHEEKY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4)
CHEEKY is written and directed by its star, David Thewlis. Thewlis is an actor I have enjoyed in several films, particularly RESTORATION (though I have a little trouble picking up everything said in his particular varient of an English accent). His film is something of a disappointment. Where it works it does so because of Thewlis the actor and perhaps Thewlis the director. Where it fails it is certainly because of Thewlis the writer. This is a film about Harry (Thewlis) who must forge a relationship with his son after he loses his wife. Harry is a bookish and likable toymaker whose world is turned upside down by a fire. He feels, as he says, "hollowed out." Before his wife Nancy died she registered Harry for a chance to appear on a television game show. When Harry is chosen after her death he feels he must go through with it.
The game show is an incredibly stupid seeming one in which contestants are tested both in their knowledge and their ability to insult other contestants. Then he forges a friendship with another contestant, a nurse whose name is Nancy, like his dead wife.
Thewlis has written some good scenes for himself and either his son or the new Nancy. Part of the problem is that logic is frequently missing from the story. The rule of the game, though never completely explained, do not make sense. A show with a concept as volatile as this would never be broadcast live. And perhaps a complaint that the drama is strong and the logic is not would not bother Thewlis a lot. [-mrl]
RHINOCEROS EYES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW opened a market for cult absurdist comedies and other strange films played at midnight. Successful examples include ERASERHEAD, REPO MAN, and LIQUID SKY. More frequently, films aimed for this market fail to catch on and are quickly forgotten. The odds are against RHINOCEROS EYES getting much attention much less a cult following.
Chep is a fringe autistic man who lives in a film prop warehouse. He knows the contents of the prop shop supremely well. The prop shop has nearly anything customers want and Chep is how they find it. When a beautiful art decorator, Fran (Paige Turco), asks for some really esoteric props like rhinoceros eyes, the smitten frustrated Chep dons a Tor Johnson mask he used for Halloween and goes out to steal the props for her. This causes a panic and a reign of terror. Chep himself becomes unbalanced and starts seeing props start forming themselves into human forms and giving him advice.
The film written and directed by Aaron Woodley in much the same campy style as REPO MAN. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Peter J. Heck has been writing a mystery series with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as the detective. The sixth and latest is TOM'S LAWYER (yes, they all have this sort of clever title). As with many of this sort of thing, the initial appeal of the premise wears off after a few volumes and one is left to judge the books solely as mysteries. Unfortunately, as mysteries they are (in my opinion) merely passable. If you're interested in Twain, I'd recommend you read one or two (the first, which introduces the narrator, was DEATH ON THE MISSISSIPPI).
Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini collaborated on several mystery and science fiction stories, which are now collected in PROBLEMS SOLVED. (It's impossible to tell from the book if this includes all their short collaborations or just a subset.) I know Malzberg mostly from his science fiction rather than his mysteries, and Pronzini only as an editor, so it's hard to compare these stories with their other writings. I found them reminiscent of John Collier or Jeffrey Archer, and they're all very short (half a dozen pages or so). I'm a Malzberg completist, but for those who aren't the book is a bit pricey. Alas, as a trade paperback, it's unlikely to show up in your library either.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's HERLAND is a classic feminist Utopia which is by today's standards fairly boring and obvious. Actually, it's not clear to me that it wasn't boring and obvious by the standards of her own time. I suspect this is assigned reading in a lot of feminism courses, but if you don't have to read it, why bother?
I had hoped that Phyllis Rose's A YEAR OF READING PROUST would be more about reading Proust and less about what happened to the author during that year, but it wasn't. I was earlier disappointed in Alain De Botton's HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Proust may be a great author, but the books he seems to inspire are neither useful nor informative (though De Botton's is the better of the two in this regard). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It isn't necessary to be rich and famous to be happy. It's only necessary to be rich. -- Alan Alda
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