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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/02/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 1
Table of Contents
A Filk Song (lyrics by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the activities at science fiction conventions is to sing science fiction and fantasy songs. There is a whole subculture at science fiction conventions that "filks." I am not usually part of that subculture, but what the heck. Recently I saw THE WOLF MAN again and I stared writing down lines. Anyway the following is sung to the tune of "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees.
I thought werewolves were only real in fairy tales. And then my gypsy son, my Bela died, And I had to worry. He had turned all furry. And he'd bitten Talbot on the side. And I saw his face Or I'm not Maleva. That's a werewolf's face. No doubt in my mind. He's a wolf. Har-rooooo The wolfbane's bloomin' He's lost his groomin' Like Edward Hyde. The Talbot family lies under a curse tonight. And Larry doesn't know just what to do. He looks really scary, Tall and dark and hairy, And he smells like something from the zoo. He's a werewolf now Or I'm not Maleva. That's a werewolf's face. No doubt in my mind. He's a wolf. Har-rooooo Though Talbot's yelpin' I couldn't help him If I tried.
I, ROBOT (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This summer we will get a film production of I, ROBOT, starring Will Smith and based somewhat on a collection of nine magazine stories by Isaac Asimov. I say "somewhat" since at this writing I have seen only a trailer for the film and that just does not capture the spirit of Isaac Asimov's writing. It looks like a typical summer action film with lots of chase scenes. Supposedly the film is set in a time before Asimov's stories take place, though it is claimed that it uses plot elements from Asimov's stories. I am afraid all too frequently filmmakers choose to use a bankable title for a film without having much desire to consider the implications of that title. A case in point is MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. The public is probably aware that that is the title of an intelligent spy series from 1960s television. The filmmakers want to give the public the impression that their film will be an intelligent spy story. And that seems to be almost as far as the loyalty to the original series goes. Oh, they will try to get some of the characters' names correct. That is about all.
The thing is that there is a fixed format for a "Mission Impossible" story. Every episode starts with the Impossible Mission Force being giving some task difficult to accomplish. Typically it might be something like to topple a dictator. Then the head of the project (initially Steven Hill, later Peter Graves) chooses a team to accomplish this task. Then the team members go in separate directions doing mysterious things. The viewer has to wonder what these odd actions have to do with the mission. Then five minutes before the end of the program the trap is sprung and all the individual mysterious actions we have seen work together perfectly like the pieces of a well-oiled machine. Suddenly everything falls into place and makes sense. Every episode comes with a free A-ha!-experience packed inside. The film OCEAN'S ELEVEN worked somewhat that way. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE did not. Literally speaking, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was not a "Mission Impossible" story. I don't expect that I, ROBOT will be an "I, Robot" story.
Doing an Asimov robot story is an odd choice, since robots are not in vogue. Robots were of some science fiction interest in the 1950s and 1960s with Robbie and Gort and the robot from "Lost in Space" capturing public attention. Public interest value peaked with the production of STAR WARS in which robots were major characters. After that, bad sci-fi films started putting in cute little robots. SILENT RUNNING had done a reasonable job with its Huey, Dewey, and Louie, but after Lucas's success the robots started getting pretty ridiculous with the cutesy V.I.N.C.E.N.T. in THE BLACK HOLE and Twiki in television's "Buck Rogers". We have not seen a lot of robots in films of late because some of those silly ones sort of killed the interest value. We did see David in A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE to counterbalance the "Buffybot" on television. Even the recent multi-story film ROBOT STORIES had only one story in which the robots were real characters, the way they are in an Asimov story. Robots may become more serious- seeming in the public's minds now that people are buying little robots to vacuum their living rooms. So if they do a decent job, the time might be ripe to bring back robots to science fiction films.
Asimov's story collection is one of the classics of science fiction which until recently has seemed nearly impossible to adapt very well into a film. However, now that some New Zealander has taken the Mount Everest of unfilmable classic books, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and brought it to the screen, it looks like other challenging fiction works may be produced. And this summer we will get some kind of screen version of the Asimov classic.
Asimov initially took a good deal of his inspiration apparently from a collection of stories by Eando Binder about a robot called "Adam Link" collected in novel form in ADAM LINK, ROBOT. Binder started with a short story "I, Robot" that was essentially a rewrite of the James Whale Frankenstein movies. It is set in the United States, but it is essentially pieces borrowed from the two movies. Binder wrote more stories about his Adam Link character. A lot of the ideas Asimov wrote were comments on the Binder. The borrowing of the title was not Asimov's idea but the idea of his publisher.
The stories in the Asimov collection I, ROBOT made famous Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics. I don't know about these days, but a few years ago any science fiction fan worth his metal (pun intended) could rattle them off from memory.
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Writer Isaac Asimov and legendary editor John W. Campbell each credited the other with having authored the three laws. In a discussion Asimov talked about what priorities it would make sense to put into the programming of a robot. Campbell codified Asimov's ideas by formally stating the priorities. Actually a bigger deal has been made of the laws than they seem to actually deserve. Their profundity has, in my humble opinion, been overrated. Referring to each of the previous laws make them seem more complex than they actually are. What they say is that a robot's first priority is protecting humans. The second priority is obedience. Third is self-preservation. Put that way they say exactly the same thing but they seem a lot less dramatic.
I will have more to say about robot stories next week. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I discussed the current Hugo-nominated novellas. This week I'll talk about the Retro Hugo-nominated ones (from 1953).
My first choice is the novella "A Case of Conscience" by James Blish, which forms the first part of the novel A CASE OF CONSCIENCE. I will admit a predilection for theological science fiction. I realize this seems to contradict my complaint about Connie Willis's Christmas fantasies last week, but theological discussion is not the same as religious content. And Blish leaves his readers to draw their own conclusions, rather than dictating a set explanation. Certainly the question of whether one can have a completely moral society without religion (or more specifically, at least in the story, without God) is still a topic of discussion.
Second for me was "...And My Fear Is Great" by Theodore Sturgeon. The topic--individuals with special powers that become stronger when they join together--shows up in many of Sturgeon's works. For some reason it worked better for me here than elsewhere.
"Three Hearts and Three Lions" by Poul Anderson is the original version of the novel of the same name. (This was expanded throughout, rather than forming intact a segment of the novel, so the only place to read this novella is in its original magazine publication. I suspect, however, that it will be voted on by a lot people who have read only the expanded version. However, my reaction applies to both.) The story of a twentieth-century man finding himself transported not only back in time, but into a magical version of our world, is a classic, and Anderson knows his stuff here. For example, you might think that the use of tobacco here was anachronistic. But I discovered that the first literary mention of tobacco was in Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queen" in the late 16th century, so I guess Anderson is allowed to include it on the basis of established usage. (And just as Sturgeon did, Anderson revisits his themes in other works as well, particularly A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST.)
The two other nominees just didn't make it for me. "Un-Man" by Poul Anderson seemed a fairly basic story about a secret group of a special type of human (an "un-man", which is also a pun on "U.N.-man" [as in United Nations]) whose job is to enforce world peace. I suspect even in 1953 it wasn't particularly original, but I also think I find Anderson's overtly political works much less appealing and more strident than his non-political ones. And "The Rose" by Charles L. Harness is about a confrontation between science and art, but frankly it struck me as a lot of mumbo-jumbo. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Oh, if only I did nothing simply as a result of laziness. --Feodor Dostoyevski
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