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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/02/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 27
Table of Contents
Let's Roomba (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that we finally are in the age of the household robot. Have you seen these new vacuum cleaners that run round the floor on their own? They use some sort of search algorithm I don't understand, but you don't have to walk with them. They just run around the floor picking things up particles on their own. What a terrific idea that is! They do the housework and don't need to bother you. You just have to send them out and empty them when they are done. I thought the ad on TV was so interesting I had to stop what I was doing and watch it. What I was doing, incidentally, was spraying for ants in the house. Yeah, we have an ant problem. I am disgusted by just the thought of them running around my floors, picking up food particles that have fallen. I don't know how they find this stuff, but they do. It is shocking, just shocking. It occurs to me that I don't need a Roomba that I have to maintain when I have hundreds of little Roombas running around. [-mrl]
MALTESE FALCON Trivia (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching the film OSCAR, which is set in 1929. Someone refers to hoods as "gunsels." By that he meant thugs with guns. Probably few people catch it, but that is an anachronism. In fact if he used that term in 1929 he would have been implying something very different from what the writer was intending. The word came into common usage when it was heard in John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON. You may remember that Caspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) had a hoodlum of small stature working him, Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.). It is important that he was small of stature, though that is not immediately obvious from the way the word is used now. He has multiple confrontations with detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and always come off in a distant second place. Spade refers to him as Gutman's gunsel. This makes Wilmer even madder. Most people thought it was underworld slang for gunman, hearing the word "gun" in it. That is how the word has been used since. But that wasn't what Spade was saying.
The dialog was taken straight from the novel THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett wrote the novel for "Black Mask," a crime pulp magazine.
Hammett's editor was a guy named Joe Shaw. Shaw attempted to keep his publication as refined as possible for a pulp magazine. Hence when Hammett had used the term Gooseberry Lay for a false clue, what we would call a red herring, Shaw objected that the term was too suggestive. Hammett protested that his word was the genuine underworld term, but Shaw would have none of it. Hammett decided as revenge he would find a way to say something dirty in a novel that Shaw would not even notice. That word turned out to be "gunsel."
So what is a gunsel? In Yiddish ganz is goose. A little goose is a ganzl. Yiddish seems to like to use small birds as slang for homosexuality. Feigele is Yiddish for "little bird." Applied to a person it means a male who is gay. A ganzl is a boy kept for purposes of illicit sex by an older man. By the 1920s the word had been corrupted until it was "gunsel." Hammett knew the word, but Joe Shaw didn't. Hammett used the word in the dialog. Shaw read it and assumed it was just a way of saying "gunman." When Bogart used the word in the film most everyone else jumped to the same conclusion. And since few things in life are as democratic as language (at least languages other than French) that is what the word has come to mean.
Note that when Gutman says that Wilmer is like a son to him it is probably a reference to Spade's comment. It is amazing that these people know so much Yiddish.
While we are on the subject of misunderstandings that came out of this film, the legend from the book is all about the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. That is the way the legend appears in the novel and also in the main part of the script. But that is not how the text at the beginning of the film goes. They have an introduction in which they say, "In 1539, the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon." The actual legend is about the Knights Hospitallers, but for some reason the Knights Templars are better known, and that may be why it was changed in the scrolling text at the beginning of the film. The two groups should not be confused. They were sort of rival gangs.
What were they exactly? During the Crusades there was a lot of gold and booty for the looting by the Crusaders in the Holy Lands. But then the crusaders had a problem. They had to get the stuff back home. Gold is heavy. Many found that they really didn't want all that they had looted. There were Church groups that said that they would take the excess loot and use it for good Christian purposes. This would have the added benefit of being a good deed that would by the crusader a better place in heaven. One charity was the hospitals for their fallen comrades. There was plenty of booty to be given away and these two organizations; the Hospitallers saw a lot of riches coming their way. In fact, they got far more than they needed for their missions. The members of the Hospitaller order became richer and richer.
The Knights Templar were actually knights who set up a headquarters in the captured Dome of the Rock Mosque. They also became a religious order. They too became powerful. Not surprisingly, the Holy Land was not big enough for both organizations and they often conflicted. Both were wealthy and well connected. But they should not be confused with each other as they were in the film, THE MALTESE FALCON. [-mrl]
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (movie review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the story of a September-September love relationship between two middle-aged people. Each of them has the option to have relationships with much younger mates. The first half of the film is charming, the second half a bit tedious. There is not much screen chemistry between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Harry (played by Jack Nicholson) is a wealthy bachelor philanderer with a taste for dating women half his age. He is going to spend a weekend with one, Marin (Amanda Peet), in the Hamptons. When Marin's mother Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) shows up unexpectedly she takes an instant dislike to Harry. The plot of the first half of the film is simple, sweet, and familiar. As a separate film it might end right there. The second half shows us the foibles of men and how Harry ruins the good thing that he had for something flashy without substance. (The middle-aged men in the audience were well chastised without benefit of having been offered either the good thing or the flashy one.) Late in the film there is a montage of scenes intended to win sympathy for Erica. It backfires badly and at least in my case I lost rather than gained empathy for the character.
The film written and directed by Nancy Meyers has some familiar faces in unlikely roles including Keanu Reeves as a bland but pleasant physician with an interest in Erica. Frances McDormand plays Erica's sister and has little to do.
Jack Nicholson breaks some new emotional ground in his acting, but I never bought him and Keaton as a romantic couple. The first half of this film is pleasant enough, but the lesson in the second half ruins the fun. It is like a lollipop with a vitamin pill center. I rate it high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
All of this week's books are collections of short fiction.
I'm catching up on Neil Gaiman's writing with his collection of a few years ago, SMOKE AND MIRRORS, and can say that his Hugo-winning AMERICAN GODS was not a fluke. (Well, since he won another Hugo the next year for CORALINE, I guess that's obvious.) Somehow, though, he seems to have burst upon the traditional fiction scene with it. Previously I knew him best for his work in graphic novels, and for co-authoring GOOD OMENS with Terry Pratchett. Yes, I knew he had other books out there, but he seemed to be below a lot of poeple's radar.
Paul McAuley's THE INVISIBLE COUNTRY was another collection of short fiction by a British writer, although I was more familiar with McAuley because of his alternate history, PASQUALE'S ANGEL, which won the Sidewise Award in the first year those awards were presented. Both PASQUALE'S ANGEL and THE INVISIBLE COUNTRY are recommended--I am glad to see collections being published, since I think that too often short fiction gets ignored as soon as the magazine or book it appeared in is pulled from the racks.
Ursula K. LeGuin's CHANGING PLANES sounded very promising in a review I read, about a woman who discovers how to travel to alternate planes of reality and visit unusual cultures. But I shouldn't have been surprised to find that rather than the Borgesian snippets (such as "The Babylonian Lottery") I had hoped for, what I got were stories very similar to most of LeGuin's other recent fiction, with a lot of "message" mixed in. They weren't bad, but I am seeing a certain "sameness" to her writing that makes me feeling I'm just reading the same piece over and over. (These are individual pieces, but thematically connected and all written specifically for this book, so some may consider this a novel that than a collection of short fiction.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi
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