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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/19/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 25
Table of Contents
Sobering Thoughts (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We just passed a big event that even Evelyn and I did not notice. The science fiction club at Bell Laboratories was founded something like November 1978 when Evelyn and I attended a Lunacon and decided we wanted more science fiction activity at work. The club met every three weeks (initially every two weeks) and we would discuss a novel. That meant a notice had to go out right after meetings to tell people what to read for the next meeting, and another one had to go out just before meetings. So two notices would go out every three weeks. Almost immediately we started including film and book reviews. Some time in 1979 or 1980 the notice went to a weekly. The MT HOLZ SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY is really just the continuation of that club and the MT VOID is the continuation of that notice. The magazine you are reading has been going for 25 years, almost all of which it has been a weekly fanzine. That is 1300 weeks so the MT VOID has gone to press more than 1250 times. I cannot think of any other fanzine that has gone to 1250 issues. [-mrl]
Answer to Last Week's Puzzle (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We had a lot of responses to last week's puzzle. First, the definitions for the words given last week (alphabetized):
We had nine responses.
David Shallcross is the "winner" with 10: monphysite, mephitic, diapason, grimoire, cupellation, adytum, sepoy, camorra, ithyphallic, and goetic.
David Goldfarb said, "I have seen before and have at least a vague idea of the meaning of 9 of those 22 words, to wit: monophysite, mephitic, grimoire, sepoy, ithyphallic, alcalde, aspergill, kakodemon, and goetic. (I would think that most fantasy readers would know 'grimoire', 'kakodemon', and 'goetic'.)" [Apparently not people reading the fantasy published today. :-( -ecl]
Dan Ritter knew 8: grimoire, sepoy, subadar, ithyphallic, aspergill, agathodemon, kakodemon, and goetic. Dan also said,
"Of these, I would expect grimoire and subadar to be common knowledge, although I would spell it subhadar."
Pete Rubinstein knew 6: monphysite, grimoire, sepoy, subadar, ithyphallic, and alcalde. He described this as, "I know a few (very few)," which may be true, but he's still doing better than most. He also sent definitions, and defined "ithyphallic" as "a hard-on (in exactly what context did this show up????)." [I don't know exactly, but the book the words were from was a book about cats. -ecl] He also said he knew "alcalde" "from many episodes of Zorro!" Though he concluded, "6 out of 22, my mother the English teacher would be disappointed," I don't think so. He added, "I'll try these on her when I next speak to her." I would be curious to know the results.
Charlie Harris had seen 5, but said:
After deciding what I thought they might mean, I checked dictionary.com. Disappointingly, I earn only partial credit, at best. I came closest with paludal, for which the phrase "paludal swamp" and a corresponding image came to mind. But since paludal *means* swamp, that phrase would be a pleonasm. (Nevertheless, Google does find two instances.)
Next is diapason, which I knew was an organ stop, but had no idea what is distinctive about it or what it sounds like. dictionary.com says "Either of the two principal stops on a pipe organ that form the tonal basis for the entire scale of the instrument."
I thought sepoy has something to do with people in the Asian British colonies, but had no idea what.
I thought grimoire has something to do with wizards, but had No idea what.
Then there were my guesses about words I've never seen:
- alcalde: something Spanish (of Moorish origin), maybe a stew.
- goetic: pertaining to navigational calculations? Well, even dictionary.com doesn't know that one: "Did you mean geotic?"
- perllan: dictionary.com doesn't know perllan either, and it's not fair including words from foreign languages, so I will claim partial credit for "a local area network implemented via perl scripts".
Barbara Cormack knew 4: grimoire, adytum, aspergill, and goetic. She added, "I think I know ithyphallic and ought to know opopanax and some of the others. I think someone has been reading about magic of the 'ceremonial' or Key of Solomon variety. [Actually, as noted above, it was a book about cats. -ecl]
Peter Anspach knew 3: mephitic, grimoire, and aspergill. "And that's it. I have seen 'adytum' and 'sepoy' before, but can't recall what they mean. And I believe 'agatho-' pertains to the aging process, so I could take a guess at 'agathodemon', but I've never encountered the word before." [Actually, it's from "agathos", meaning "good", one of the few bits of Greek I remember from college. You're thinking af "anti-agathics"--anti-ageing drugs--but I have no idea of the origin of that word. -ecl]
John Jetzt knew 3: sepoy, paludal, and alcalde.
Ian Gahan said, "I could manage three, grimoire, sepoy and goetic. Was this a book by William Hope Hodgson by any chance?"
Stephen Massie wrote: "I only knew one word 'Sepoy' which is the rank of low private in the British-Indian army. I recognised one other word 'aspergill' (or aspergillum) but had to look it up to check (holy water sprinkler). I figured ithyphallic had something to do with phallic symbols used in early Greek plays but I didn't previously know the word. All the other words I have not seen before. Must be a result of the Scottish education system." [I don't think so--we Americans didn't do any better, and Ian, another Scot, got three. I think it's a function of reading books about magic and religion. -ecl]
George MacLachlan noted, "As an exercise I cut and pasted the list of words into my MS WORD 2000 program. It was happy with 6 of the spellings: mephitic, diapason, cupellation, adytum, camorra, and ithyphallic." [-ecl]
Discussion of AMERICAN GODS (announcement by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For people in the central New Jersey area, there will be a discussion of Neil Gaiman's Hugo-winning AMERICAN GODS at 7PM on Thursday, January 22, at the Old Bridge Public Library (Route 516 just east of Route 9). Please come join us--you don't have to be an Old Bridge resident. [-ecl]
Keep Your Delpros. We Had the Apex. (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You know, your grandchildren will look at you like you are weird and ask you something like, "You mean you grew up before AE5s and for connectivity there wasn't even the Internet? Most of your life you had never even heard of Delpros? You were an adult and Delps hadn't even been invented yet?" But you will be able to look at them smugly because they missed the high-point. You in your lifetime saw things go to their peak and then start sliding backward.
Say you want to drive from New York to Boston. There was a period when that took a long time. Then better and better roads were made with more Interstate highways. For a while you could make the drive in something like five hours. These days the traffic is so bad that it takes longer each year. It is up to about seven or eight. You have a bunch of people seduced by the philosophy that they want taxes cut because they know how to spend their money better than the government does. But they are not buying new roads with their tax cuts.
There was a window of time when you could fly from Paris to Los Angeles at supersonic speed. You needed the Concorde to do it. And the Concorde has recently had its last flight ever. We have lost that capability.
As a civilization we had and lost the ability to get people to the moon. It may come back. Maybe. But it is not here now. Remember the thrill of getting cable to escape commercials? There isn't much left there that is commercial-free. If you just turn on our cable box the default station drops you into an "infomercial." And even when you are watching what is between the ads they are putting little decals--I don't know what they are called--over the corners of the picture with announcements of upcoming programs, ads, and logos. They intentionally make them as distracting as they can manage with moving parts. One I saw had a little car drive across the bottom of the screen to announce some automobile-related event.
You know when I was a kid you had to do a lot of ripping to open a box of cereal. They might have a tab and a slot on the top of the box, but frequently you destroyed the top of the box of cereal when you tried to open it. The glue might be too strong or the perforation did not work. As time went buy packaging improved and was easier to open and easier to reseal. If you buy a bag of dried fruit today you cannot only open it with your bare hands, frequently it has a zip-lock to allow you to seal it airtight again. Cans of soda used to require a pry, a special tool to open. Later they came with tabs, but the tabs ripped off entirely as a separate piece to befoul the environment. Fish would swallow the tabs and damage themselves. Beverage cans got better, because there was a competitive advantage to making a can that was environmentally safe and at the same time convenient for the user. All these are improvements. But packages have gotten too convenient. The industry decided that to stop shoplifters they had to make a package that was REALLY tricky to open. Forget about customer convenience. We now get small electronics and optical equipment in these nice plastic packages that allow the store owner to hang the items easily on a rack. The only problem is that when you get these plastic packages home they take you forever to rip open. There is no instruction on how to get these things open and they make it as tough as they can. I am darned if I know how to open one of those packages without destroying the package and the cardboard backing inside. Packaging is getting harder and harder to use all for very good reasons that don't consider customer welfare very well.
And now there is something new. One of the reasons why people used to want to go to movies as soon as they were released is to see a pristine print of the film. The longer a film is used, the more times the print goes through the projector the more it gets worn. We have all seen old prints of films with vertical lines dancing back and forth across the screen. This means that the film was scratched in showing or in careless rewinding. You want to have as few visual distractions on the surface of the film like blemishes. Many films still have a little oval show up in the upper right corner of the frame just before the end of a reel. They call it a "cigarette burn" because that is that is what it looks like. This is how a projectionist knows there is a reel change coming up and that he should be prepared to hit the pedal to change projectors. Frequently this is not even needed these days because the reels have been spliced into one big reel in a horizontal platter. I am not sure if current films still have the cigarette burns for this reason; it may no longer be needed and the filmmakers want as little distraction as possible on the screen. Disney Studios has been known to be the leader in the industry in this regard, releasing absolutely beautiful prints on expensive film stock. It has been true until recently that you would always see a really beautiful image on a Disney print.
At least that was how things were a month ago. Now some studios are no long as interested in making their prints look good. In fact, now they are actually putting blemishes on films that are intended to be noticeable. I noticed it in MASTER AND COMMANDER and in 21 GRAMS. There are big red dots on the screen in some scenes. They are just there for a flash, but they are irritating and distracting. Why the big red dots? It is an anti-piracy scheme. If that print is borrowed, transferred, and uploaded to the Internet, when that film is downloaded those dots will show. With these dots it will be possible to tell from the image on the Internet from what print that binary copy was made. The scheme was developed at Kodak something like twenty years ago with unnoticeable dots. It is called the CAP Code scheme. But dots like Kodak specified are not visible from an Internet copy. Someone is taking the Kodak scheme but is no longer concerned about not irritating the customer and is using these big Bozo dots that are very obvious when they flash on the screen. I am all in favor of fighting piracy. But only up to the point that I start having their efforts damage my film-going experience.
The film industry is currently running ads with films saying that piracy hurts their industry. They say one should only see film from legitimate sources and that films are worth it. That is their tagline, "Films are worth it." When I have seen the ads I have agreed, "Darn right they are." I have never knowingly watched a copyrighted film off the Internet. The industry has my full support until they decide they can damage my film experience by defacing the print they are letting me see. I hope that future generations will not have to put up with ugly-looking films because that is what the film industry feels it has to do to prevent privacy.
So whatever little jim-jams are coming along, we are going to have grown up without, but we still had the best of things, before they went back downhill. [-mrl]
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS completes its cycle with THE RETURN OF THE KING, a spectacular film of complex battles and breath-taking scenery. This film offers a fairly decent adaptation of the book, an engaging storyline, and high fantasy on a level that has never been matched on the screen. I don't think it makes sense to rate this chapter separately, though I will say that for me it didn't disappoint. I give the entire three-chapter story my highest grade. Rating: 10 (0 to 10), +4 (-4 to +4)
New Line Cinema gambled their future giving Peter Jackson $300,000,000 to adapt a classic novel THE LORD OF THE RINGS to the screen. That sounds like a lot of money, but considering the resulting film was the length of six feature films broken into three double-length feature films, that was not such an astounding budget. The New Zealander had a spotty track record, and even his best films were of selective appeal. It was a big gamble. One has to admit that it paid off wildly successfully for New Line. Jackson turned out a trilogy of films that deliver on most counts. He managed to get a script that is both reasonably faithful to the novel and at the same time is flashy enough to work on the screen and to even have a wide appeal. I saw the third chapter with an octogenarian and sat near a six-year-old. Both were looking forward to seeing the film and both seemed to enjoy it. There were a teen behind me who enjoyed the film more than I enjoyed his kicking the seat.
The production design by Grant Major is first-rate, delivering some astonishing visualizations of Middle Earth. All the architecture seems fantastic, but some areas seem to borrow from Scandinavia, some from Indian hill forts. None seems out of place. Peculiar fauna was invented for the film and implemented with generally very convincing digital effects. Almost everything to look at in the film is wonderful. The acting is frequently exciting from good actors, though casting was a little heavy on the teen heartthrobs. But the film also has respected actors of the caliber of Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, John Rhys-Davies, and Bernard Hill.
This trilogy delivers its $300,000,000 directly to the screen. It has a look that is refreshingly original, at a time when so many films come out looking like THE MATRIX (UNDERWORLD and EQUILIBRIUM, to give two examples). Adapting 1960s TV shows seems to have given way to adapting Marvel Comic Books among the most popular films. But THE LORD OF THE RINGS is a genuine original. Most images on that screen look like nothing I have seen on the screen before. The film repeatedly shows vitality and imagination.
This chapter continues and completes the adventures, of course, as Frodo (played by Elijah Wood) wends his way to Mordor, the darkest and most evil place in Middle Earth. He is accompanied by the loyal Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) and the treacherous Gollum (a superb blend of ones and zeros, voiced by Andy Serkis). Much more than in previous chapters this is Gollum's film, with a lot of screen time and more coverage of his strange schizophrenic inner conflict. Gollum is a real character with depth. While they head into Mordor to face its Orcs and monsters, most of the rest of the characters move toward the mammoth battle for Minas Tirith. Through the use of CGI, Peter Jackson provides us with what is probably the most spectacular battle every put on the screen. This conflict has catapults, dragons, elephants (or the local equivalent), corsair ships, archers, Orcs, ghost armies, and a cast of tens of thousands, even if most are digital. This is not the battle you imagined when you read the book. This is the battle you wish you could have imagined when you read the book. For once the filmmaker is leading the imagination, not roughly and crudely approximating it with clunky images. The only place that the script really fails is at the very end when Jackson seems unwilling to let the story go.
I will not give this individual film a rating since it does not stand by itself. It is the final third of a very long film. In spite of the narrative occasionally being a bit dry, I give the entire THE LORD OF THE RINGS a 10 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +4 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE FOG OF WAR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)
There are not many filmmakers famous for documentaries. There is Ken Burns, Michael Moore, and perhaps third place goes to Errol Morris. Though his name is not a byword, he has made the notable documentaries THE THIN BLUE LINE; A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME; FAST, CHEAP, & OUT OF CONTROL, and MR. DEATH. Inspired by reading the memoirs of Robert S. McNamara he made THE FOG OF WAR. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. In this film McNamara offers opinions about American foreign policy from the Second World War to the present, but especially during his term as Secretary of State.
Considered historically a hawk, McNamara' version of the events casts a very different picture. He is very conflicted about the policy toward Cuba and Vietnam during his term. He was reluctant to take the office of Secretary of Defense and his personal philosophy was one of restraining the executive, a position born out by quotes from actual recordings of telephone conversations. The film gives particular insight on McNamara's attitude toward American policy in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
McNamara boils the lessons of his experience to eleven points:
This Week's Acquisitions (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Normally, spring and summer are book sale season, and I said a few weeks ago I had added 48 books to my "to-read" stack at a warehouse sale, but that I was probably set until next year--or at least until next March and the big Bryn Mawr used book sale in Princeton and the East Brunswick library sale.
Well, I was wrong. Oh, I suppose I was set in the sense that I had enough to last me, but that didn't count for much when the nearest used book store decided to go out of business (or rather, to scale back and go Internet-only). Given that I had a store credit there, I sort of had to get books. But it was almost the same situation as trying to spend the last few dollars of Czech currency on candy before leaving--everything was so cheap I had to buy an entire carton to use up less than $20 in credit. (It could have been worse--I think the final day was going to be $1 a box!) One consolation was that I only added 24 books this time (or 7000 pages, versus 9500 pages last time).
So what did I get? There were eight John Dickson Carr mysteries I hadn't read, along with eight mystery anthologies. I also got three first-person Civil War accounts (Henry Kyd Douglas's I RODE WITH STONEWALL, J. H. Kidd's A CAVALRYMAN WITH CUSTER, and Colonel John S. Mosby's memoirs, GRAY GHOST), as well as an omnibus of Bruce Catton's three volumes on the Civil War. Add to these a few philosophy books and that's about it.
We also picked up some books I didn't add to my reading stack (so they weren't counted above): L. Ron Hubbard's BUCKSKIN BRIGADES, a rare R. A. Lafferty, and four hard-to-find John Wyndham books. (The latter two descriptions are actually redundant--in the United States, pretty much all Lafferty is rare, and pretty much all John Wyndham books are hard to find.)
Now as long as no other bookstores have going-out-of-business sales, and I don't drive by just as someone is putting boxes of rare books out to be recycled or something, I should be all set. Except that last time I was at the library, I checked out four books--because, I suppose, I hadn't a thing to read. [-ec]]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The main book I read was Harry Turtledove's IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES, an alternate history expanded from the short story of the same name, set in a 2003 in which Germany has won World War II. The plot revolves around a group of Jews who have survived as "secret Jews" (in much the same way as the Marranos survived in Spain in the 16th century). The premise was laid out in the short story, and the book takes it and then adds a couple of situations where the Jews might be caught, as well as a major change in government. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be copied for history a little too closely. For that matter, so is Fuhrer "Kurt Haldweim", who is almost always referred to by his full name to keep reminding you who he's supposed to be, while other people are often referred to by last name only. (I'll note that a Google search indicates that "Haldweim" is completely made up--no such name appears to exist for anyone.) This tendency towards word play has lured Turtledove into having one character refer to another character's statement about having "a yen for sushi" as a pun--when both are talking in German. I also thought that the level of technology was not sufficiently explained--much of it paralleled ours, but ours was developed as part of the Cold War.
I guess my main problem with this book, though, was the obvious re-tooling of recent political events. I know history repeats itself, but this I thought was over-doing it a bit. It's the sort of book that if you have an interest in alternate history or Jewish science fiction (or both), you will want to read it, but it's not clear it would have the wider appeal of, say, Robert Harris's FATHERLAND or Stephen Fry's MAKING HISTORY.
My library science fiction discussion group read Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S SHADOW, a parallel book to ENDER'S GAME. Though people say it stands alone, I'm not convinced of that. (I read ENDER'S GAME years ago, so I can't completely judge.) The "general" discussion group read Laura Hillenbrand's SEABISCUIT, which I found almost impossible to read. I don't know if it was the style, or the fact that I don't know much about horse racing and got lost by technical terms, but I found that as soon as Hillenbrand started describing the actual racing, I got lost. The fact that I had seen the movie also meant that I kept overlaying that, including its actors, characterizations, etc., onto the book. Conclusion: always read the book *before* seeing the movie. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them. -- H. L. Mencken
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