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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/15/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 16
Table of Contents
SciAm's Science & Technology Web Awards 2004:
Check out http://tinyurl.com/3l5fg>. This will take you to the Scientific American's "Science & Technology Web Awards 2004." These are the 50 best science web sites as chosen by their team of experts. You can spend a lot of time and learn a lot. [-mrl]
Campaign Promises (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
An old question, probably from Zen or Vaudeville, asks, "What's the difference between a duck?"
George W. Bush is making campaign promises for if he gets elected. He proposes a massive troop realignment abroad. He proposes special new drug benefits for the elderly. And so forth. I am curious what makes him think he could do the job so much better than the President we've had for the last four years could. [-mrl]
STAR WARS, MARK III (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The ancient Homeric poets never wrote down the "Iliad" or the "Odyssey". The poets just knew where the story was going and made up verses on the spot that told the tale. The story was never told exactly the same way from one time to the next. The concept of committing the story to unchanging paper had not been invented. Socrates is said to have distrusted having his thoughts written down. If he was not personally present to defend his ideas, how did he know they would be properly defended? He gave his argument orally and tailored it to his audience.
Even novels, which seem immutable, may appear in differing versions. There are two different versions of FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley. In one Elizabeth really is Victor's cousin, in one she is not. Plays are never acted exactly the same from one performance to the next, though presumably the words should remain fairly similar. When the Marx Brothers were on Broadway, anarchy reigned. The comedies they were in would be very different from one night to the next and filled with spontaneous humor that was different every time.
But things are generally not like that in movies. As with most novels we expect a film to be exactly the same every time we see it, since it is presumably the same film. CASABLANCA we expect to remain constant as time goes by. If it was re-edited or if some scenes were changed purists and others would notice. Every time I watch KING KONG I see something new I have not seen before, but I know it is the same film I have seen before (the Bowdlerized version is rare these days). Of course some films really are cut down or re-edited for re-release.
More recently--which means over the last twenty years--you have started seeing the re-editing used as a selling point. Popular films will be re-released in what is called the "Director's Cut." The director is saying, "You paid to see this film, but what you got is not the film I would have wanted you to see. This current version is the film the way I wanted it." Don't hold your breath on getting your admission price refunded for the earlier imperfect version. And almost invariably the "Director's Cut" is no more than marginally better than the original version and frequently it is not as good. I will make one exception. The re-editing of TOUCH OF EVIL following notes that Orson Welles left did seem to me to be more than marginally superior to the original, though I admired both films.
Today there are multiple versions of many films around. Or one version will totally replace another. Has anybody seen recently CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the non-special edition? E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL in now available in two forms: one with guns on the Federal officers and one without. Steven Spielberg directed both those films. But the man who has become most associated with revising his films in later release is Spielberg's pal George Lucas. With each re-release of his "Star Wars" films Lucas modifies them. And every time fans of the films curse him because scenes are not the way they were on the first release. He revises scenes improving on the special effects. In the original film Han Solo shot first at Greedo, but every time it is released that little piece is modified. In 1997 Greedo shot first and in the new release they shoot just about at the same time. Lucas modifies the films maybe just because he can, I think. And the viewers are unhappy with every single change. Most think that every such "enhancement" actually damages the film. Also it makes the viewers wonder if they just didn't notice "Chapter 4: A New Hope" on that original release or if it was really not there.
A "Star Wars" film can be left untouched as a souvenir of that heady first time the film was seen, or it can be modified so that it is ever current and always a least partly new. Is it better optimized or left untouched as an artifact of its original release? That is a dilemma that Lucas and his viewers face. When one sees a change it can be the thrill of the new or it can be a jarring reminder that someone stepped in and tampered with the film.
Certainly there is part of me that does not want to see a STAR WARS IV, MARK III. How could it be better than the original version? That is the version I went to see on the second day it was open, grinned for two hours, and left the theater envying the people I saw in line for the next show. A film is like a bookmark in time. I want to be able to go back to that marvelous summer of 1977 and see it again for the first time. I cannot do that, but I would like at least to be able to recreate just what was on the screen then. I don't want to see characters that were not there until the 1997 version. That would be just a reminder that the time has past and that this is no longer 1977.
Lucas is actually doing something with his "Star Wars" films that has not been done before. What he is doing is not mere tampering. He has the means to keep revising and updating his films. They become a living story that, like the Homer's Iliad, changes with time. Nobody has ever done that with a film before. It is a new capability. There are a lot of films that are bookmarks in time. He is experimenting to see if a film can be kept current. That way it can always be a showcase for what is current in digital technology. He has got to know that many people are not happy that he is tampering with a classic film, but I think he wants to explore the new capabilities. There probably is nobody better or more appropriate than George Lucas is to do that sort of pioneering.
Seeing how to keep a film current may not be what fans of the films want Lucas to do, it may not be the best thing for the films, but it is an idea that Lucas apparently wants to explore. So let him. My suggestion to Lucas is to follow the lead of Coca-Cola. He should release NEW STAR WARS 4-6 and STAR WARS 4-6 CLASSIC. Let the viewers choose they way other films let them choose between full screen and wide screen. In both cases the connoisseurs of the films will know which versions to choose. [-mrl]
DUNE: THE BATTLE OF CORRIN by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2004, TOR, ISBN 0-765-30159-8, $27.95, 620pp) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
THE BATTLE OF CORRIN is the final book in what apparently is called "The Legends of Dune" trilogy. I didn't realize that the trilogy went by that name until I looked at the page facing the title page. Okay--I guess that's a decent enough umbrella title for the overall trilogy, which I thought was supposed to be about the Butlerian Jihad, which it was. Oh, well. I'm not in marketing--what do I know?
What I *do* know is that it's finally over. The three doorstop series is finally over, and I wonder whether it was really worth the effort. I understand that Frank had asked Brian to write the story of the Butlerian Jihad with him before his death, but other than that and another way to milk money out of the Dune name, was there a real reason for this story to be written?
It sounds like I didn't like the book and the story, but as I reflect back on nearly 2000 pages, I find that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The writing has gotten better with each passing book, going all the way back to the first of the Herbert/Anderson Dune collaborations, HOUSE ATREIDES. The story of the Butlerian Jihad was more interesting than the "Prelude to Dune" series (the House books), because all the characters were new and different, although many of the names were the same. It's certainly not written in the tone and voice of Frank, but it's not bad. But still, why write it? Even though in the end I enjoyed the story, it's like making 2010. I didn't want to know how and why Hal did what he did, but they told me anyway. And that movie was certainly done in a completely different style than Kubrick's 2001, just like these books. So, why make it? Money, as I said before.
As far as THE BATTLE OF CORRIN goes, it's really a misnamed book, because the bulk of the novel is spent just setting up the climactic battle, which really lasts less than 10% of the book. It's also nearly anticlimactic, because you know how it's going to end, more or less. But it nicely ties up ALL the threads that have been hanging around for three books, and sets the stage for the Dune universe as we know it. As with the prior two novels, there are tons of characters to follow through various plot twists and turns, and as a result this novel is a fat 620 pages. (At Noreascon, Anderson says that's the way he likes to write--lots of characters and lots of plot, which means big fat books. He says you can't write a short book with this much going on, and he's right. There are times I wish he wouldn't do it.)
As far as the story itself, we see everything involving everyone that leads up not only to the final battle, but as I said to the beginnings of the Dune universe itself. We see the beginnings of the Bene Gesserit, formed from the ashes of the Sorceresses of Rossak; the beginnings of the Suk doctors; the beginnings of foldspace technology and the Spacing Guild, as well as the first Navigator, Norma Cenva; and we see the devastating betrayal of an Atreides by a Harkonnen that leads to the millennia-long feud between the two families.
All in all, it was definitely an entertaining read, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Hugo quality? No. Good reading? Yes.
Postscript: Herbert and Anderson are finally writing the finale to the whole thing, but of course in grand style they're expanding it into two books, not one. If Frank could have written it in one, which seems to have been his intent, why not these guys? In the interim, there apparently will be a book called "The Road to Dune", a collection of "lost stuff". Shades of Christopher Tolkien and "The History of Middle Earth". Anyway, what scares me about all of this is that I think I need to go back and read Frank's originals before the last books come out. I haven't read any of them since CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE came out years ago. So, by God, in the coming year or two I'll probably get started on those, and expect those reviews here. If I could find it, I'd submit the original review of GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE that I wrote for my college SF club's fanzine back when that book came out. Then I'd write a new review based on the later reading. I'll go looking. It's probably gone for good. [-jak]
BEING JULIA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A well-produced look at the London stage in pre-war London, based on a novella by Somerset Maugham. The characters may not be as endearing as intended. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Based on Somerset Maugham's novella "Theater," BEING JULIA presents a portrait of London's dramatic community in 1938. The film centers on the affairs--literally and figuratively--of Julia Lambert (played by Annette Bening in flawless British accent) in this story the great star of the London stage. Julia is burning out on her acting career and threatens to leave the stage, but is revitalized by a visiting American fan Tom Fennell (Shaun Evans). She decides to seduce Tom, cheating on her long since platonic husband (Jeremy Irons in a good but disappointingly secondary role). Bruce Greenwood plays a close friend long falsely assumed by all to be Julia's paramour.
Maugham creates some rich characterizations that are engaging and credible though not always likable. Julia is known to never stop acting, as everyone notices. But she is clever in the ways she finds ways to work her will on other people. In her tightly knit acting community people rarely can fool each other for long, though they frequently try. Julia imagines advice from her deceased former mentor (the always-excellent Michael Gambon).
One problem American viewers will have is that the plays are acted in an affected dramatic style, since abandoned. While the viewer is expected to recognize when acting is good or bad, because of the stentorian style it may never seem good. There seem to be serious logic flaws with the climax of the film, but I will not reveal them to avoid plot spoiling.
The film was shot in large part in Hungary, which can still be made to look like pre-war London. (Presumably it would be hopeless to try with the real London.) Look for one remarkable scene early in the film where with one look Miriam Margolyes as Dolly defines her character and her relation to Julia. [-mrl]
BLOOD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A two-person play of a brother's and sister's verbal and physical battle with each other involving drugs, sex (including incest), and enough else to make this film a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Rating: -2 (-4 to +4) or 1/10
A brother and sister verbally tear at each other and try to get under each other's skin while they engage in attempts to manipulate each other. This is a filmed one-act play and the one act seems verbal abuse. Noelle, a drug addict (played by Emily Hampshire) wants her brother Chris (Jacob Tierney), a convicted thief, to join her in one hour for a ménage à trois. A mutual acquaintance wants to try a threesome and is willing to pay $300. That is how their brother-sister discussion starts. Things go downhill from there with bondage and incest during constant verbal and drug abuse. These are two people you would probably cross the street to avoid. Why would you want to spend more than an hour in a room listening to them? Charming.
The immediacy of the performances is damaged by some gimmicky camera work like using split screen to show two characters who could easily have been shown in a less artificial shot. Jerry Ciccoritti directs from his own adaptation of the play by Tom Walmsley. The editing is experimental, and I would like to think the whole film is an experiment that just went wrong.
I almost always sit though a film. I sat through this film. Learn from my mistakes. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The main book I read this week was Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL (ISBN 1-58234-416-7). (At 800 pages, it is not surprising that it is the main book I read.) This has gotten a lot of press, almost all positive. It was even mentioned as a shoo-in for nomination for Britain's Booker Prize. (It didn't make it.) I will say that it is a shoo-in for Hugo nomination next year, especially since the convention is being held in Glasgow, giving a much higher number of British nominators.
So I will undoubtedly seem like a bit of a spoil-sport when I say that I do not think this is a great book. That may be because I am not a big fan of Regency novels and this has been described as a fantasy Regency novel. The premise is that at one time magic was rife in England, but has fallen into disuse. At the start of the novel Mr. Norrell seems determined to prove that magic still exists, but only he can do it. Then Jonathan Strange comes along to challenge him, and to try to train new magicians. (This is, I suppose, a thinly veiled parallel to the general conflict between the notions of aristocracy and democracy that was occurring at that time.) But for all the magic, not much seems to happen, or rather, things happen at a much slower pace than in most books. This is fine if you want the texture of the era, the Napoleanic Wars, magic, and everything else, but not if you are looking for a story.
Now all this probably sounds as though I'm looking for all "all- action" plot with only the barest layer of characterization and writing over it. This is not the case, but I will admit to preferring poetry in smaller doses than this book. (Russell Hoban's work, for example, usually has more emphasis on poetic writing and atmosphere--but HER NAME WAS LOLA was only 207 pages long.) But I will acknowledge that for people who read the huge fantasy series coming out these days, the length will not be an issue, and JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL is a well-written novel set in a fascinating world.
(Along with others, I have to wonder at Clarke's division of Britain into England, Scotland, Wales, and Elsewhere [Faerie]-- where is Wales in all this? And why is it called "English magic" when it clearly includes Scotland? And does anyone else have magic?)
And one final note: this is being marketed as mainstream, not fantasy, so 1) it will be in a different section of the bookstore, and 2) it will be priced a little higher than most fantasy novels. The chains have pretty much decided that they will not stock mid- list fantasy priced above $25, but mainstream novels do not have any such ceiling that I know of. This is priced at $27.95, certainly a good price when compared with a lot of the EFP ("Extruded Fantasy Product") selling for $24.95 these days, or for that matter when compared to mainstream pricing in general. (Note: I just saw it at Costco for $15.99, so it is probably being heavily discounted elsewhere as well.)
I did manage to sandwich in Christopher Buckley's book of humorous essays, WRY MARTINIS (ISBN 0-06-097742-6). As with all humor books, this is best taken in small doses, and not every essay worked for me. But some are great reading, especially the four- essay series on Tom Clancy and Buckley's recounting of the "Lenin for Sale" fiasco. Many of the rest have a political bent, but are fairly even-handed and, more importantly, funny. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Maddox's First Law: Those who scorn the "publish or perish" principle are the most eager to see their own manuscripts published quickly and given wide publicity--and the least willing to see their length reduced.
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