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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/18/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 51
Table of Contents
Pizza-Free Zone (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This will be a pizza-free issue, the first one in four weeks. Meanwhile, I can report that after the first month of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, the sky has not fallen there, the sun still rises, and the price of gasoline is about the same as everywhere else. [-ecl]
CGItis (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been looking at a list of the films coming out this summer. You know, a sequel to SPIDERMAN, VAN HELSING, TROY. Everything seems to be a CGI extravaganza of mostly animated film to minimize the use of live actors. I seem to be suffering from a bad enthusiasmic cinematic dysfunction. It has been months since I have been able to achieve an enthusiasm. Probably not since MASTER AND COMMANDER. And even that film was in large part computer-generated. That is a long time to go without achieving a genuine enthusiasm. I wonder if my doctor can help. Is there such a thing as moviagra? [-mrl]
An Argument You Can't Win (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn is constantly joking about how Woody Allen was right in SLEEPER when he said that every food that you are told is good for you will eventually be bad for you, and everything that is bad will eventually be good. The scientists who wake up Woody in the future tell him that now they know that along with smoking, deep- fat frying and hot fudge sundaes are the best things for your body. It seems likely to me that certainly that there are a lot of foods that have not been properly studied to determine if they are healthy or not.
The problem is that there are not enough financial sources that are going to fund health and nutrition studies objectively. The government funds a little via institutions like the National Science Foundation, but they consider this money to be almost like charity. With the scantiness of government funding of research it is going to be a long time before the government funds a study of whether something like chocolate is actually healthy. In fact, there was such a study and it was found that chocolate is full of healthy anti-oxidants. The plaque that builds up in arteries and causes coronary problems requires oxidation to form and be maintained. Anti-oxidants impede the growth of this plaque and actually help to break it down. Anti-oxidants also seem to fight cancer through mechanisms I believe we do not understand. They also fight aging apparently.
But the study that established that chocolate was healthy because of the anti-oxidants was funded by the Mars Candy Company. They funded it because they were gambling that it would be healthy and that knowledge would help their sales. And of course when the study discovered that chocolate anti-oxidants where healthy, those findings were at first suspect because of who was funding the study. Actually, the finding is not all that self-serving after all. It seems that dark chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants, but milk chocolate is not. I don't think that Mars has many dark chocolate products. They deal almost exclusively in less healthy milk chocolate. (One of their standard milk chocolate candy bars, the Milky Way, has a dark chocolate version for some reason also called a Milky Way.) But the point is that most nutrition research is self-serving and so its results are therefore questionable. Hence our knowledge of what foods are healthy improves only slowly.
If you have been reading the news about health matters over the last few months you may have seen some articles about the health value of hot chocolate. It seems that a study was made of common table beverages to look for anti-oxidants. The mechanism is that they reduce the free radicals in the body. You may have heard that red wine and black and green tea are very good for your arteries. Well a study by the American Chemical Society found the champion health beverage is really hot chocolate. The anti- oxidant concentration of hot chocolate is about twice that of red wine, five times that of black tea, and three times that of green tea.
Also recently discovered is that cinnamon seems to reduce blood sugar levels. And it contains yet more anti-oxidants that protect cells from free radicals. The Department of Agriculture did this study. So what do I do? I have a daily cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon. Actually cinnamon and hot chocolate is a standard combination. It is common to stir a cup of hot chocolate with a cinnamon stick. Now it is known that hot chocolate with cinnamon reduces free radicals and blood sugar. I never previously liked hot beverages. They always are too hot and I burn my mouth or too cold and they are not palatable. I don't think that hot beverages are even natural. I think we may be genetically programmed to prefer cold beverages.
How's that again? Flashback to 10,000 B.C. It is Thursday afternoon. You have two pre-humans. Troglodyte A for some reason has a genetic preference for drinking things that are cold. Troglodyte B has no such preference. Both are thirsty. Each takes a sip from a local pond but Troglodyte A spits it out because it is warm. Warm doesn't bother Troglodyte B. He takes a big drink of the water even though it is fetid and smelly and stagnant. Troglodyte A runs a mile further to drink from a stream of cold water. That water is cleaner because it is recently melted from snow. As a result of being picky Troglodyte A drinks fresh water while Troglodyte B drinks stagnant water. Guess which troglodyte has a better chance to survive to create little troggies? And so the genes for liking drinks cold, if they exist, get passed along. There is a genetic advantage to liking what we drink to be cold. But I digress.
Our generation has at least a better chance to eat healthy than previous generations because we now know about things like hot chocolate with cinnamon is healthy. We were on a WWII aircraft carrier and got to see what people ate in the 1940s. It is amazing these people lived to fight a war. Even for people who live active lives it was amazing all the cholesterol in their diets did not kill them. We probably know better now and our tastes have really changed to healthier diets (if we do not eat too much at fast food restaurants). At least it is possible to have a diet that is better than your parents had and one that will let you live longer. Of course, the downside is you will never be able to convince your parents and older friends of that. If they are around to see you are living a long life, at least so far they are living a longer one. Think about it. [-mrl]
BRIGHT FUTURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This originally ran in the 10/31/03 issue of the MT VOID as part of the Toronto International Film Festival coverage, but since it is getting its United States release now, we thought we'd re-run the review.]
Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
For quite a while I have been claiming that the two best horror film directors currently working are Guillermo del Toro and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. While other horror film directors seem to feed off of older ideas and styles, these two are inventive. And of the two Kurosawa is probably the more inventive. Truly his films are weird enough that they frequently leave the viewer behind. I have seen his SEANCE, CURE, and PULSE, and would definitely recommend CURE and PULSE. His new film is certainly a weird story, though not strictly speaking in the horror genre.
With A BRIGHT FUTURE Kurosawa says that he is making a non-horror film. However if this is not a horror film it is something very much akin. It certainly is bizarre.
Yuji and Mamoru are two workers in a laundry who are friends. As a hobby Mamoru has a project to take poisonous jellyfish and adapt them so that they can live in fresh water. Their supervisor at the laundry picks these two out to be friends in spite of their disinterest in them. He starts insinuating himself on them more and more. He visits Mamoru's apartment and watches sports on Mamoru's television. When he sees the jellyfish he wants to poke fingers into its water. Yuji is ready to warn him that the jellyfish is very dangerous, but Mamoru gestures to Yuji not to interfere. But nothing happens. The boss discovers that the boys almost let him be killed and realizes they hate him. He fires them both. Yuji is so angered that he goes to the boss's hose to kill him, but when he gets there he discovers that Mamoru has been there already and has murdered the boss.
Mamoru is convicted of the murder and sentenced to be executed. In prison Yuji and Mamoru's long-lost father visit Mamoru. Yuji determines to finish Mamoru's project to adapt the jellyfish to fresh water. Mamoru commits suicide in prison, but Yuji is still dominated by Mamoru's vision. The dead man's spirit still seems to dominate Yuji and Mamoru's father.
In spite of Kurosawa's claims and the title, this is a very bleak film. The jellyfish is filmed hypnotically and the film carries us to the conclusion that seems inevitable. This film may not have the appeal of Kurosawa's CURE or PULSE, but it nonetheless is like no other film I have ever seen. Kurosawa's greatest gift is his originality and uniqueness. [-mrl]
TO END ALL WARS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This originally ran in the 10/05/01 issue of the MT VOID as part of the Toronto International Film Festival coverage, but since it is getting its DVD release this week, we thought we'd re-run the review.]
CAPSULE: This is a harrowing look at a rarely dramatized chapter of WWII, life in a Japanese prison camp. TO END ALL WARS is a moving film about the struggle of prisoners to retain their humanity and their dignity. The somewhat religious interpretation may not be to everyone's taste. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)
More than any other people the Japanese seem capable of acting with one goal and not letting any other consideration get in their way. This may be a holdover from the code of Bushido when loyalty to ones master was the only law. During World War II, of course, the one goal was winning the war. This led them to do some very inhuman things in pursuit of that goal. When the Japanese had captured prisoners, they were very much treated in whatever way would be optimum for achieving the one goal. Minimum resources were to be spent in maintaining prisoners in keeping with maximal positive output. While the Germans, not known for their kindness in those days, had a 6% mortality rate among captured prisoners of war, the mortality rate of Japanese prisoners of war was 27%. The best thing for the war effort was working prisoners nearly to death on the Thailand to Burma railroad. That railroad was needed if Japan was to attack India as it planned to do. The best thing for the effort was not to waste much food on the prisoners so short and amazingly wretched food was the order of the day. And just being in the jungle without proper medical aid took its toll.
In the public mind Japan has never been held as accountable for war atrocities as was Germany. Filmmakers have been reticent to tell the story, perhaps for fear of offending the Japanese. There are comparatively few films about the Japanese POW camps. Certainly there was David Lean's THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. There were some low-budget British exploitation films and that was about it. Then there were TV series "A Town Like Alice" and "Tenko." Lest the experience be forgotten we have a new film TO END ALL WARS directed by David Cunningham and written by Brian Godawa. It is based on the account of Ernest Gordan who survived the horror of that World War II prison camp and went on to become for 26 years the Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University. The film while realistic shows the conditions in the camp as being considerably more brutal and sadistic than BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI portrayed them.
The story opens with six or so soldiers being marched into the prison camp only to be immediately placed in front of a firing squad. It turns out to be a grim joke, one of many that the sadistic Japanese play to amuse themselves. Beating and torture are commonplace events. Men already imprisoned tell the new arrivals to enjoy the last of their health; it will not last long with parasites and disease almost inevitable. However, unlike as in KWAI, the prisoners want to avoid going to the hospital, called by the prisoners the Death House.
So goes a war within a war with the prisoners trying to maintain their humanity and with the Japanese trying to make them interchangeable and highly expendable cogs in a rail-laying machine. This is more than just a battle of who will win the war but a battle of ideologies. The Japanese believe that the individual is nothing, that conformity to group's norms is all that gives a life meaning. Conformity is purpose. Before the film is over there will be some surprising revelations about the character of the prisoners and the character of those running the camp. If this story showed nothing but sadism from the Japanese it would be one kind of story. If the British (with one American, by the way) and the Japanese learned to respect each other it would be another kind of story. It is neither. It is a stirring and believable account of camp life.
The color has been distorted in the film to give a washed out yellow. This serves a double purpose for Cunningham. It gives an effect of Technicolor film that has been left in heat. It also creates a distancing effect. The only touch that seems a little out of place is the use of Gaelic music.
This is a powerful and philosophical view of the prison camp experience. I rate it a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I've been saving up the Retro-Hugo nominees to discuss all together. Even though I read Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END last September and Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 last November, I decided to re-read them now so that I could compare all five fairly.
Isaac Asimov's CAVES OF STEEL (ISBN 0-553-29340-0) still holds up well. Oh, a lot of the social conventions and attitudes are somewhat dated, but I find that adds to the "charm" of it all. Asimov was one of the first authors who managed to meld science fiction with mystery and not have either suffer as a result. I may even go back and re-read the sequel, THE NAKED SUN. (Asimov eventually tied these into all his other works--unwisely, in my opinion.)
Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 (ISBN 0-345-34296-8), unlike many "topical" books, is still a classic worth reading. The premise might be unlikely, but then so is the premise of (for example) THE SPACE MERCHANTS. The whole idea of speculative fiction is to accept the one premise and see where it leads. (I think it owes a lot to GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, another book full of unlikely premises.) If you've only seen the movie and not read the book-- and what does that in itself say?--you should be aware that the book is richer in detail, less dedicated to a happy ending, and contains an entire sub-plot about how governments making war wage the propaganda battle at home that is as pertinent today as ever.
I read Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END (ISBN 0-345-34795-1) last October and commented on it then (MT VOID, 10/05/2003). In particular, I have already noted the incorrect predictions for sexual mores and for broadcast media, and the rather unbelievable claims for the Overlords' technology (one is reminded that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). So I'll comment now on other aspects that bothered me this time around. First, Clarke has this magical technology as a way to enforce world peace. However, given its limitations even in the book I suspect it would not be very useful against a group of terrorists. He also sees the "time-viewing" as putting an end to the world's religions, but many of those religions do not really depend on specific events in history. Clarke also talks about theft disappearing because no one lacks anything--this was obviously written before the corporate scandals of the last couple of decades. The reference to Israel as the last independent country and to the state of race relations in South Africa at the time of the arrival stick out as having missed the mark; when Clarke temporarily updated the first chapter, I don't think he went through and changed any of these, and the first chapter is now restored to its original state anyway.
Hal Clement's MISSION OF GRAVITY (ISBN 0-345-00993-2), unlike the Asimov, did not seem to age well. Maybe my tolerance for pages of world-building infodump has decreased, because I seem to remember that when I first read it about thirty years ago it was great.
I know Theodore Sturgeon's MORE THAN HUMAN (ISBN 0-375-70371-3) is a classic. I know people love it. I am not one of them. I have tried many times to read this book, and while I probably did finish it at least one of those times, this time I decided life was too short and my reading list too long.
So my vote would be (in order) for FAHRENHEIT 451, THE CAVES OF STEEL, CHILDHOOD'S END, MISSION OF GRAVITY, then "no award", and finally MORE THAN HUMAN last.
In future issues I will be covering the novellas, novelettes, and short stories. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic. --Thomas Szasz
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