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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/14/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 46
Table of Contents
Hugo-Nominated Short Fiction (announcement):
The Hugo-nominated short fiction from 2003 is available on the web for a limited time at the following sites (some have links to multiple works):
http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook21594.htm (free download)
http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook21805.htm (free download)
"A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman is not as yet available on-line.
Thanks to Nicholas Whyte, who collected this information. [-ecl]
Dreams (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn was telling me, "I don't know what it is, but of late I have been having the weirdest dreams."
I said, "Well you are lucky you can remember them. I never can remember my dreams. All I know is that they all seem to end up with me in bed next to a beautiful woman."
"Is that what you call 'lucid dreaming?'"
"No, that's what you call 'smarm.'". [-mrl]
Politics on the Small Scale (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I returned to the town where I went to college as an undergraduate. I still have friends who live in this town and I get together with them several times a year. I should add that the town has a national reputation for its weird political proclivities. Frequently its extremes are a matter of national derision.
Evelyn, my friend, and I were sitting in a restaurant having dinner. Suddenly there was an ear-piercing scream. It is the kind that gives you a nails-on-the-blackboard creep on your spine. Everybody in the restaurant looked up and there by the door was a little two-year-old blond girl with her parents. She did not appear to be in any way unhappy. The little girl was just using her lungpower to amuse herself. A woman standing near me said "Oh, poor thing." Suddenly I realized that what I had just heard was emblematic of the sort of thinking we see college towns.
The woman near me had immediately decided that her sympathies were with the little girl. Why? Well I assume she thought that little girls seem to be a class of people that we naturally know needs protecting. But let's take a closer look at what happened. Who is the harmed party? Well, it is the people who jumped. That is just about everybody in the restaurant who was taken by surprise by the shriek. The little girl knew it was coming. None of the rest of us did. If anything the little girl was the only unharmed party in the whole incident. She may not think of it in these terms but she is the perpetrator. The rest of us were her victims.
Now it would have been easy for the little girl's parents to tell her she should not shriek in restaurants. I am sure that a girl that age must be told many times a day not to do this or that for very good reasons. But the little girl's parents just took her shrieking in public as a perfectly normal behavior. They apparently save discipline for incidents that bother them more. Here the little girl must have bothered forty people, but most of them were strangers to the parents. They were not going to trouble their own family for strangers. After all who in the restaurant could be bothered by so little a girl?
From the girl's point of view here she screamed and she got sympathy. Nobody seems particularly upset by the scream and in fact she seems to have gotten sympathy. Screaming seems to be a strategy that gets her attention and sympathy without appearing to bother anyone. It is a behavior that is reinforced, not in any way limited.
But I don't really blame the little girl and only a little do I blame her parents. The person who I blame is the woman who can look at an incident and completely mis-identify who the victim is and who the perpetrator is. The woman sides with the little girl not because she feels the little girl did the right thing but solely because the little girl is a little girl. And even in something so small nobody feels right about siding against a little girl.
Last year in May in the same town a drinking party in the streets turned into a full-scale riot. A bus stop was burned down as part of the joyful festivity and reports say that foreign students housed near the street say they feared for their safety, their property, and even their lives. Police arriving to break up the party were pelted with bricks, rocks, and beer bottles. Nineteen police officers were injured. Forty-five students were arrested. And what bothers me most is that one person I talked to about this told me, well these are just kids in college. They don't know they are not supposed to do this sort of thing.
Maybe we should tell kids that they are not supposed to harm other people. And maybe two years old is a good time to start. [-mrl]
VAN HELSING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Not as bad as it might have been, but still no bargain. This is a fast-paced and overblown CGI-fest that leverages off of the old Universal monsters but does not actually want to use them. Writer-director Steven Sommers of the MUMMY films handles action scenes well, but is poor with directing acting or even giving us a very good story. This is a film of dubious thrills and no chills whatsoever. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
You can tell everything you need to know about Van Helsing from the poster. The name VAN HELSING conjures up images from the novel DRACULA. Two actors have owned the role enough to play it more than once. One is Edward Van Sloan, and the other Peter Cushing--both of them advanced years and rarely physical. The original character uses his brains, not his brawn. The poster shows him jazzed up, young, and recast as an action hero to appeal to a teenage audience. There is little attempt to make him consistent with the character as written.
That transform on the character is really the essence of what director Stephen Sommers has done with the entire film. The teenage audience does not want a hero who thinks and solves puzzles like how to track down a vampire. They want a hero with big futuristic weapons who can fight CGI villains. And they want the monsters to be equally physical. Sommers previously jazzed up the old Boris Karloff mummy Im-ho-tep and made of him the CGI mummy who was monstrous in all the wrong ways. He showed he could make a computer-aided monster movie and give it an air of respectability by trading off a traditional Universal Studios monster. Now he has moved on to do a film like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA but with 21st century comic book sensibilities (or lack thereof), tailored for those kids who believe black-and-white films cause eyestrain.
If you don't have a poster, everything you need to know about VAN HELSING you can learn by considering his crossbow. It fires bolts like a machine gun. It has a rocket launcher. And it has a bow with a taut bowstring. Why does it need a bow? Well the story takes place in the late-1800s and they don't want to damage the period feel. Not much, they don't. Of course the women's fashions are skimpy and revealing. I guess that is what clothing was like in Victorian times.
As the story opens Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, just a tad bland for an action hero) is fighting to subdue Dr. Jekyll's evil side, Edward Hyde. Except this Edward Hyde is big like a rubbery- looking Incredible Hulk. Van Helsing dispatches him and that done he returns to Rome. It seems that Van Helsing is a sort of James Bond for a secret organization in the Vatican. Van Helsing gets his orders from Cardinal Jinette. This film's token distinguished actor Alun Armstrong plays the cardinal. (Armstrong's weasel-like looks get him great villainous roles like Thenardier from LES MISERABLES and Wackford Squeers from NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. Here we see far too little of him.) Once Van Helsing is fitted out with new weapons by the Vatican's equivalent of Q he is dispatched to Transylvania to fight a threat from Count Dracula who has a plot for vampirism to break out as an epidemic in a big way. He is given a friar Carl (David Wenham) as his humorous sidekick. (Aren't all sidekicks humorous?) Intentionally or not Van Helsing and Carl seem to be recreation of the heroes of CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER.
Sommers superficially ties his current fantasy creations into the old Universal monster movies, but with little respect for the originals. It is something of a forced fit. In the original Dracula had the power to move about unseen by turning into a bat. Sommers reinvents this power saying Dracula and his brides can transform themselves into bat-winged harpies who attack from the air and have little interest in hiding themselves. It is a complete subversion of the original concept of what a vampire is. The new wolf man is the size of a bear like in THE HOWLING, and borrowing an idea from Paul Schrader's CAT PEOPLE (1982), the human does not transform into the animal but the creature bursts from inside the human's skin and presumably leaves a human skin laying around. Everything is done at a fast pace with one action scene after another to cover over the paucity of plotting. Kate Beckinsale in tight swashbuckling clothes seems rather extraneous to the plot, but she is usually a pleasure to see on the screen.
This is a CGI action-fest rip-off and wannabe from a parallel universe where LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN was an enviable success. Perhaps the film will be a critical success in that world. VAN HELSING gets a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
As a side note, Universal Home Video has released what they call Legacy Collections of their Dracula, Frankenstein, and werewolf films. The timing suggests the relatively good price for the classic films is intended to use them as a throwaway promotion for VAN HELSING (!). After Carl Laemmle, Jr., left Universal the studio never again showed proper respect their horror series and this continues that tradition. The werewolf set includes four classic werewolf films; the other two have five films each. Together they represent all the series films of the three monsters with the exception of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Over the years I had lovingly collected individually VHS copies each of these 14 films (okay, 13 of them). I am happy to get them all at a reasonable price at the quality of DVD reproduction. I am a little sorry to see them dispensed as mere "bonus features." It is one more case of tails wagging dogs. [-mrl]
ILIUM by Dan Simmons (copyright 2003, EOS, ISBN 0-380-97893-8, $25.95, hardcover, 576pp) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I never did like the Classics - Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare - you name it, I never read it. Every time I tried, I found them tedious, boring, and sleep inducing.
Now I think I want to read The Iliad. Dan Simmons has taken this ancient Greek classic and turned it on its ear, and while the book is not without fault, overall it is quite intriguing and fascinating.
Our story takes place on essentially three different fronts. The first, and what I assume is the main front, involved the Trojan War and the Greek gods. Thomas Hockenberry is a 20th century scholic raised from the dead by the gods to chronicle the events of the war. Hockenberry can QT (quantum teleport) around at will and shape change to fit in to any location and event he needs to. He needs to report back, what he sees. The thing is, he knows what's going to happen, but he can't spill the beans - that's part of the gig. Only Zeus knows what's going to happen. Well, as we all know, the gods can be devious, and Aprhodite gives Hockenberry the ability to hide from the gods' sight (except hers) via the Hades' Helmet. Aprhodite tells Hockenberry to spy on the rest of the gods, and, to eventually kill Athena.
The second front is on a dramatically different earth from the one we know today. The population is down to a million or so. No one has to do any labor - everything is done via servitors and the mysterious voynix. People have lost all knowledge and desire to improve themselves. They transport from place to place via the fax process at faxnodes. They also don't live to be more than 100 years old. Every twenty years they fax up to the firmary in the e-ring where the post-humans renew them, and after 100 years they fax up to the e-(or p-)ring for good to lead a life of luxury with the post humans who have watched over them for so long. Here we meet Daemon, a really whiny guy that you just want to smack around, Hannah, Ada, and Harman. They will be part of an adventure that changes the course of humanity. They meet Savi, the Wandering Jew, who missed the "final fax". Savi is ancient and knows much more than the rest of the old-style humans.
Then, of course, there are the moravecs. They are a group of sentient machines that live in Jovian space. They send a mission to Mars to determine the source of the extreme amount of quantum flux activity taking place there. Our players here are Mahnmut and Orphu of Io. Their mission is to transport another moravec, Koros III, to Olympus Mons where it will deposit a Device of unknown purpose.
Of course, all these scenarios are related and intertwined. Also, of course, the story doesn't finish here - it finishes in the next volume, OLYMPOS, due in the spring of 2005 (shades of HYPERION and THE FALL OF HYPERION).
But the overall story is big enough for that, even though I don't care for multi-book stories all that much. However, there are some other things that bother me about ILIUM. Like the Iliad, there is an *immense* number of names and characters in this book, mostly from the Iliad itself. Between the gods and the humans, you just can't keep them all straight, even with the listing at the back. Simmons manages to name all the players at least once, it seems, and I wonder if he's trying to impress us with his knowledge of the Iliad or the amount of research he did for this book. Also, while the action took place on three fronts, I ended up being kind of bored on two of them, one of which was the main front. I was most interested in what was going on with the old style humans. The moravec thing was tedious, especially with Mahnmut and Orphu of Io arguing about Shakespeare and Proust. The Trojan War portion dragged, I think, because of trying to keep track of all the names.
Having said all that, I still really enjoyed ILIUM. It has a grand scope, and I think all of you know how much I enjoy that. There's a lot going on that hasn't been answered, and, above all, I don't see where it's going to end up. That's always a plus. No matter its flaws, I would heartily recommend it to anyone.
Next up - BLIND LAKE by Robert Charles Wilson. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Tom Standage's THE NEPTUNE FILE: A STORY OF ASTRONOMICAL RIVALRY AND THE PIONEERS OF PLANET HUNTING (ISBN 0-802-71363-7) is a history of the discovery of Neptune (as well as Uranus, the asteroids, and Pluto). It focuses on John Couch Adams, but covers the other contenders who might claim the title of "Discoverer of Neptune" as well. As with all too many scientific quests, it is as much a tale of competition, pigheadedness, and ineptitude as of the search for knowledge.
I had never read Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME (ISBN 0-440-49805-8), but since there is to be a three-hour television movie of it soon, I decided it was time. The fact that I'm way over the target age for the book may have affected my opinion, or the fact that it is so overtly religious, but it isn't something that I personally can recommend. (On the other hand, I'm sure many people will find the religious content of the book just fine, and would happily give it to their children to read. I can't argue with that.)
Steve Olson's MAPPING HUMAN HISTORY: GENES, RACE, AND OUR COMMON ORIGINS (ISBN 0-618-35210-4) looks at our notions of race from a genetic standpoint and concludes that there is no basis for how we have traditionally divided people into races. Instead, what he describes is pretty much the viewpoint that if there is such a thing as race, there are four races--three of them are African and the fourth is everyone else. A lot of the book is about how Homo sapiens migrated to cover the globe, what may have happened to earlier intelligent primates, and how all this shows up in genetic traces. It is certainly an interesting companion piece to Jared Diamond's GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL (or for that matter Edwin H. Colbert's WANDERING LANDS AND ANIMALS).
David Everitt and Harold Schechter's THE MANLY MOVIE GUIDE (ISBN 1-57297-308-0, Boulevard Books) is incredibly politically incorrect--but that's the idea. Sample from the comments on THE BIG SLEEP: "Many critics have noted that this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's mystery novel does not make any sense. And in fact, there is at least one murder that goes completely unexplained. All of which points up one of the great advantages of being a man. Since small cinematic details like plot, character motivation, and logic don't really matter to us anyway, we're free to enjoy this movie as a pure exercise in wise-talking, double-dealing, blackjack-slugging virility." The book also includes some very specialized categories--one of my favorites is "The Best Sci-Fi Creature Movies Of 1955 Directed By Jack Arnold That Feature Clint Eastwood In Miniscule Roles" (hint: there are two). "The Only Manly Merchant-Ivory Film" is THE DECEIVERS, and for "Noteworthy Gladiator Movies That Do Not Feature Woody Strode" they say, "We're sorry, but we can't think of any." Silly, but fun. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent. -- Socrates
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