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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/26/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 22 (Whole Number 1258)
Table of Contents
Film Fest: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND:
What if we had the power to selectively erase memories on a given subject? If you want to forget a former lover, you just have a doctor remove those memories. That is the subject of what will almost certainly be the best science fiction film of 2004. For more information on the film see my review, republished elsewhere in this issue. On Thursday, December 2, at 7PM we will show this film at the Leeperhouse Film Festival. If you would like to join us, simply let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. [-mrl]
How Did They Get That? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I like to see these odd photographs like the bullet as it cuts a playing card in half. Or there is a giant close-up of the gnat in flight. You know the sort of thing. Actually the one I really wonder about is the TV ad with the woman who screams in excitement the instant she realizes it is a publishers sweepstakes truck pulling into her driveway. You may have seen the ad on TV. How does the photographer get that picture? What does he tell her? "Excuse me, ma'am. We need to bring in a camera crew and set up a camera in your house and take your picture. The reason? Oh, I can't tell you right now but it is a really good reason. You'll love it, I assure you." [-mrl]
The Music of the Spheres (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Yes, friends, it goes on and on. Mankind continues the upward climb from the mud from which we sprang on to our journey to the stars. We have come from a time when the world was big and we were little. Mankind was then just a small monkey-like ape looking up at the huge world that was around him and saying wordlessly to it, "I can lick you." Some day this world would have my imprint on it. All animals will know that we have been here. We will have made our mark. Someday this would all be ours. Our descendents will know that we have been here.
Oh, there were for Mankind many challenges ahead, many great leaps forward. Those monkey-like creatures would learn to stand up. They would learn to use the funny noises that came out of their mouths. That opposing thumb would help Mankind to change its environment. Humans, for such they were now, learned first to use tools and then for forge them. But this was not the end. The beating of tools led to the invention of music. It was still just a beginning.
Then this creature learned to express himself on walls and in speaking. He spoke of the world around him. At first he told only what was true or what he wanted to be believed. Then he invented storytelling, tales that were good without being true. Mankind learned to carve his image on the sides of cliffs and to build colossal statues. And still the cavalcade moved on.
The stories became literature. The music became symphonies. The painting became fine art. Small villages became great cities. And after millennia of progress eventually the music gave birth to Rock and Roll, mighty Rock and Roll. And Rock and Roll begat Rock Music. And the Rock Music was everywhere. And the people programmed their cell phones with the Rock Music and carried the sound to the wilderness. And the birds heard the melodies on the cell phones. And lo, the birds imitated what they had heard and sang the glorious Rock Music melodies, carrying Mankind's Rock Music to the wilderness and to other species.
And yet this tiny island of a planet is not enough to contain the wondrous Rock Music. Now it must wend its way out into cold reaches of the Universe. Now the Cassini-Huygens is out at Saturn. It was launched on Oct. 15, 1997, and reached the vicinity of Saturn in July of 2004. It will become a new moon of Saturn, then dive down through the dark atmosphere of Titan and land on the surface. It will collect more information about Titan. But it will also broadcast Rock and Roll music to Outer Space in the hope that some alien species will hear it and it is hoped will find it cool. It may be that some groovy space buddies will hear the music and groove along with their Earth buddies and find it funky.
This is all the plan of the European Space Agency who asked French musicians, Julien Civange and Louis Haeri, to give them some wordless music to blast into space. After December 21 you can hear the music at the music2titan web site http://www.music2titan.com/
And you can read more overall about the plan at http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1248542.htm
It isn't there yet but it will be December 21. I find it interesting that though it is a European Space Agency initiative the music2titan uses capital A's without the bar, like the NASA logo does.
But what I really find interesting is that they have chosen Rock Music to send into space. There was a time when the music chosen would have probably been Classical Music. I think that not long ago there was a feeling that Classical music represented the best music. Classical music has fallen from its high status with amazing rapidity over about a generation. Younger people think of Classical music as being stodgy and boring. Much more popular is music that is loud, brash, and generally non-melodic. Bart Simpson represents more of American taste than we realize when he asks, "Why do they STILL have classical music on the radio?" Twenty years ago there were three stations in New York City that could be counted on to have Classical Music in the daytime. They were WNYC, WQXR, and WNCN. Today WQXR has no competition. And this is in New York City, once a cultural center.
The sad fact is that if the European Space Agency really wants to play the music representing the greatest number of Earth people, Classical Music is not going to be it and Rock Music probably is. That is the real music of Earthlings.
Live long and Rock. [-mrl]
Letters of Comment on THE CATCHER IN THE RYE:
We got a couple of letters about Evelyn's comments on THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.
Dan Kimmel writes: "I had much the same reaction as Evelyn to THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, reading it in my 20s. I didn't see what the fuss was all about. What I was told--and which rings true--is that there is an optimum age for exposure to this book. At 14 or 15 Holden's disillusionment with the adult world no doubt seems wise and sophisticated. By the time you're actually *in* the adult world, that moment has passed. For the flip side, what comes to mind is the chilling movie 'Seconds' (1966), arguably one of the best performances Rock Hudson ever put on film. The story of a middle aged man given a new chance to live his life over, it's a story that someone under 30 can only appreciate--if at all--intellectually. Whereas for people in their 40s and 50s, it packs a wallop."
[Evelyn notes: "Those of us recently retired got a lot more out of ABOUT SCHMIDT than 20-somethings, I'm sure."]
Susan Wysk says: "I haven't read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE in years, but I just wanted to let you know that it is one of few books [my college-age daughter] loved. Of all the assigned reading through 12th grade, she really only liked CATCHER and JANE EYRE. I have since figured out that her genre is "chick lit" since she loved Bridget Jones and Molly Keyes. I am just glad I'm not in the "Bridget Jones" stage of life!"
Mark responds: "I think that you might have to be just the right age to like CATCHER IN THE RYE. I read it when you did and I think I liked it. But I think you have to read it just about the point that you are getting disillusioned about society." And regarding stages of life: "I would rather not be this age and still be at that stage of life. (Or whatever the male equivalent stage is.) However if part of the package was that I could be that age again, I might want to take the package."
BEYOND INFINITY by Gregory Benford (copyright 2004, Warner Books, $23.95, 338pp, ISBN 0-446-53059-X) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I've been reading Greg Benford books for a long time. I'm especially fond of his "Galactic Center" series. Benford writes with grand scope encompassing big ideas across vast distances of space and time (well, generally he does--I mean, COSM is more near future, for example), and I like those kinds of books. This one, however, misses the mark.
The setting is the far distant future, wherein the solar system has been rearranged, humanity has been genetically altered several times, and ancient, powerful magnetic intelligences, created by the denizens of Earth, roam the galactic spaceways. Our story starts on Earth, where the creatures that live there resemble human beings, but really aren't--they're just distant relatives. Cley is our protagonist, and although she has modifications, she is classified as an Original--close enough to be thought of as a human from the ancient times, millions or billions of years before the setting of the story. Cley lives a peaceful lives among her Meta (her group, if you will), of Originals. Call her Meta her family. She doesn't know who her father or mother are. She works in the subterranean libraries with the Supra, who as you might guess from their name are a superior class of genetically altered humans.
One day Earth is attacked by an intelligence known as the Malign, which wants to eliminate all Originals, although somehow it misses Cley while carving its path of destruction. In fact, Cley is the *only* original left. As we go through the story, we find that Cley has a destiny of sorts. The Malign fears her, and we don't know why. She is forced to flee and try to hide from the Malign somehow, and is joined by a raccoon-like creature called a procyon, who goes by the name of Seeker. Seeker leads Cley on a journey that will prepare her for the ultimate battle against the Malign for the safety of the galaxy.
Along the way we either meet or hear about various galactic wonders: the Multifold, the Pinwheels, the Singular, the Dons; all of a sort of grand scope that you would expect from a novel like this that Benford says is inspired by work that he did with Arthur C. Clarke. Indeed, much of it reads a lot like a Clarke novel, throwing out ideas and wonders of the universe as if they were a dime a dozen.
The novel ends with the climactic battle against the Malign, as you would expect, but somehow the whole thing was just a little too meandering for me. I loved all the neat grand scope stuff, but it came at the weirdest of times and didn't always seem to fit in to the story where Benford put it. As much as I like this kind of stuff, I just couldn't get into it.
On the other hand, it makes me want to read a few other Benford book on my shelves. Would that I could clone myself and get them all read. [-jak]
SAVED! (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A right-wing evangelistic clique of girls rules the social order at a Christian high school. One begins to question their values. For a light comedy this film says a great deal about some serious issues. The script shows a few rough edges but it beats many films of much higher pretensions. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Sometimes the TV show "The West Wing" will take a small story, perhaps even a family story, and place it in the White House. Conversely some films will take issues of national importance, but have them play out in a neighborhood or a high school. George Orwell told the story of Russia under Communism, setting it in an English animal farm. ELECTION was a serious film about national politics and more but was told as a high school comedy. SAVED! is a perceptive and wryly witty comedy about the evangelical right, but it is set in a Christian high school. Even the name of the school sets off alarms. It is the American Eagle Christian High School.
In the senior class at American Eagle Christian High School at the top of the food chain is a holier-than-thou clique of girls who form a singing trio called the Christian Jewels. Because they appear so fervently Christian, they have the full approval of the school faculty. Pastor Skip (played by Martin Donovan) represents the latter. Leading the singing clique is Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) and happy to be accepted in the group is our central character Mary (Jena Malone from CONTACT). As Mary starts senior year she has everything going for her. She is in with the Christian Jewels, she has found Jesus, and she has a handsome Christian boy friend Dean (Chad Faust). She seems to be heading into a world of Christian bliss. Then Dean privately in the family swimming pool tells Mary a secret he has told nobody else. He thinks he is actually gay. Mary is shocked enough to hit her head on the side of the side and sees a vision of Jesus at the bottom of the pool. Jesus gives her a Mission. Jesus wants to her to turn Dean from his evil ways. She convinces Dean to have sex with her to lead him to the joys of heterosexual love. This plan had no effect on the preoccupied Dean, but it has the worst possible outcome possible for Mary. She is pregnant, the baby's father does not like girls, and the Jesus she saw at the bottom of her swimming pool as left her high and dry. She finds she cannot bring her problems to her mother Lilian (Mary-Louise Parker). The only friend willing to help her is the rebel and the school's only Jew, Cassandra (Eva Amurri). Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) rounds out a threesome of outcast friends.
We have seen many enough comedies making fun of Christianity. Monty Python did a more than adequate job in THE MEANING OF LIFE and THE LIFE OF BRIAN. But that is not what co-writer and director Brian Dannelly is doing. He is not attacking religion so much as championing moderation. He is saying that those who with to appear the most zealous in their religion in order to use it against others are really the least Christian. The most Christian are the tolerant moderates. This too has been said in films before, but less frequently and usually in great films like INHERIT THE WIND.
Casting was unusually good and not just for acting merit. Martin Donovan and Patrick Fugit play father and son and there could be a family resemblance. Similarly Jena Malone really looks like she could be the daughter of Mary-Louise Parker. Eva Amurri seems to overplay her role just a little, but perhaps her character might be a little overripe.
I expected a light teen comedy and got it, but also got a film that operates on several levels. For reasons I will not explain here since they would be spoilers, it seemed that the plotting toward the ending was contrived and I thought the script needed a little work. But as the rating indicates this is a film of some substance. I rate this one a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
DE-LOVELY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: MGM's second film biography of Cole Porter manages to stick closer to the truth and reveal more of his private life. Director Irwin Winkler makes it feel like we have seen a lot of Porter's life. And he still manages to fit in a song every four minutes. Kline and Judd are both good, but Porter seems to have more sophistication than depth. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It is not an easy job to shoehorn thirty-one Cole Porter songs into a two-hour movie and still have time left over to tell much at all about the life of Cole Porter. It is to Irwin Winkler's credit that at least at a high level the viewer feels the film has not stinted on telling Porter's story--or more accurately the story of Porter's relationship with his wife, Linda Porter. Kevin Kline plays Cole Porter, the man the public saw with his urbane sophistication and the man the public did not see with his string of male lovers.
The story of DE-LOVELY borrows a leaf from ALL THAT JAZZ with a humanized Death (in his case Jonathan Pryce) showing the subject his life as if it were a show. Porter meets his future wife Linda Leigh (Ashley Judd) at a partly and immediately is smitten. He soon has to make the admission to her that while she has his affection, his chief attraction is to men. Leigh who has as much affection for him tells him discretely that she has no strong sex drive and will let him have his nights with the boys if his days are spent with her. After they marry Linda has reason to regret that pact, as his sexual desire for her flags even as it increases for men. His tenderness for her is never altered, but he does not desire her physically and while she has said he does not have great needs, he does not bother to meet even those. She wants only the affection and a modicum of discretion, but Cole repeatedly gives in to the temptation to be indiscrete and to misbehave. When asked why she is so complacent Cole explains, "Mrs. Porter tries very hard to want what I want." Meanwhile Porter's goes from composing songs to composing Broadway musicals to composing films for MGM. The public loves his music but largely misses the double entendres, even the songs which it is implied were intentionally dumbed-down to please Louis B. Mayer. MGM even makes a highly fictionalized biography of Porter, NIGHT AND DAY.
The film is structured like ALL THAT JAZZ, but somehow Porter is not as compelling a character as Joe Gideon/Bob Fosse. He is suave but is not shown complex enough to be really interesting. His sex life is all that seems to be under the surface. The production design by Eve Stewart (TOPSY-TURVEY) seems to have just the right touch of sophisticated upper class society. The makeup to age actors gets better and better with time. The 73-year-old Porter is practically unrecognizable as Kevin Kline and could almost be another actor.
Ashley Judd is as good in this film as I have ever seen her. She in fact shows more depth than does Kline. Her Linda is captivating enough to leave not the smallest doubt why Cole would be interested in her. Perhaps our interest in her is why we feel Linda's pain more than Cole's. Too much of his emotion is muted by sophistication. Overall I rate DE-LOVELY a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review was originally published in the 03/26/04 issue of the MT VOID.]
CAPSULE: This is quite probably the best new science fiction film I have seen since MINORITY REPORT and well before. A device allows for the removal of painful memories by erasing them. The hitch is that the memories must be opened and partially relived as they are being erased. Charlie Kaufman's third script is demanding, but it is delightfully engaging, intelligent, and even profound. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10.
SPOILER WARNING: Some people seem to be missing the point of the film. I will explain the concept of what I saw. This reveals no more than other reviews or what the trailer reveals, but even that might harm the viewer's enjoyment.
It seems these days that Philip K. Dick has eaten the top end of science fiction films. Just about all the best science fiction films seem to be based entirely, in part, or implicitly on ideas from Dick's writing. ETERNAL SUNSHINE is a film that does more than borrow Dick's reality-bending ideas, it tells a story that has center and heart. It is also a film that has pathos and chuckles. And it has what Martin Gardner would call the "Aha!" experience. This is a film that does what the best science fiction does. It allows us better understand the human experience by putting it on a lab table and dissecting it in ways we could never do without science fiction. If the viewer can follow what is going on, and not all viewers will be able to, this is a real gem of a movie.
Picture Frank Sinatra. You have just pulled a memory from your head and visualized it, seeing it not exactly as you first saw it, but as a close facsimile. Suppose your memories of Frank Sinatra cause you pain. Dr. Mierzwiak (played by Tom Wilkinson) has a machine that can locate those memories, open them up, and erase them. But in opening them up the patient relives the memory at least partially until it is completely erased. Years of memories can relived in a single night, each for the last time.
The memories that Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) finds and the being reminded of his reasons for having his memories erased give insight into his relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) and also more generally into human behavior. And there are fascinating visuals of him reliving his memories at the instant those memories are deconstructed.
Plot. Yes, I should tell what the plot is. Joel wakes up one morning dissatisfied with his life. On a whim he skips work and takes a train to the beach at Montauk. There he meets Clementine, who attracts him and who seems playfully interested in him. She is an off-beat kook, but "kook" is just to his taste at the moment.
Some time later their relationship has run its course and the good time he had with her is just a painful memory. But Dr. Mierzwiak is an expert on removing painful memories. For a fee he has his two (indifferent) assistants (Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo) go to Joel's apartment one night and put a big weird helmet on Joel's head to replay and erase Joel's memories of Clementine. This starts Joel's strange odyssey through his memories, reliving each for the last time. Meanwhile the less than positive attitudes of the two assistants causes problems for the sleeping Joel and for the awakened Dr. Mierzwiak.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's first film was the creative BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. His second film was the nearly as good ADAPTATION. Now he is showing that he has not yet reached his peak. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is the best script by a surprising margin. The director is Michel Gondry, but for once it is the screenwriter who is getting the attention. And that is only fair. Hopefully this is a movie that will show the film industry that good writing can do more for a film than good special effects. I rate ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For Thanksgiving, I figured I would pay tribute to that great American institution, the public library, with a few quotes.
"It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ambition and ability to develop it as the founding of a public library." --Andrew Carnegie
"Once as a boy of twelve I was emboldened to search for some books in Leipzig's Musical Library. To be admitted to its august precincts as a regular user, one needed pledges from three citizens of high standing. After securing these I presented my "want list" to the librarian. Like a dragon protecting his holy grail he viewed me critically, then blurted out with all the friendliness of a drill sergeant: 'Come back in three days and we will show you what we have found.' No wonder that, by contrast, I was startled upon my arrival in America to find its libraries groaning with books liberally available to all citizens, with no questions asked." --Otto L. Bettman
"My mother and father were illiterate immigrants from Russia. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn't believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn't believe that it was free." --Kirk Douglas
And what more appropriate book to start off with than Godfrey Oswald's LIBRARY WORLD RECORDS (McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-1619-X)? This is the sort of books that libraries should buy as reference material, but is unlikely to be something an individual would want to acquire permanently. Then again, at least three librarians read this zine, so who knows? Still, the average read may want to know the five largest universities in Italy, or the ten oldest existing written works, but probably does not need the book that has that information. (By the way, the latter is not an entirely accurate heading, since Oswald lists "Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria" as number one, "Egypt" as number two, etc., naming the oldest from each. But the ten oldest existing written works are probably actually Sumerian.
One item of particular interest to those living in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area: The world's oldest existing bookstore is the Moravian Bookstore in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, dating back to November 17, 1745.
Brian Stableford's YEAR ZERO (ISBN 0-7862-5333-9) is all about UFO abductions and Elvis sightings, yet still manages to work in Stableford's abiding interest in evolution and biology. It's a somewhat lighter book than many of Stableford's works, but still well worth reading.
James Morrow's THE CAT'S PAJAMAS & OTHER STORIES (ISBN 1-892- 39115-5) is Morrow's third collection of stories. As with all his other works, Morrow looks at morality from all angles and in all its aspects. Of all the current writers, I would say he is the most Swiftian in his approach, and also that he is one of my favorite authors. His writing at times achieves a level of bizarreness also reminiscent of Howard Waldrop, another of my favorites. If I asked who would write a story about King Kong, Godzilla, and 9/11, you would be likely to guess Waldrop, but it's Morrow. Or of a real Martian invasion--ditto, it's Morrow. The collection includes several pieces never before published, making it a must-read for Morrow fans. [-ecl]
[I am not sure what the difference is between writing about a "real Martian invasion" as Morrow did and writing about a fictional one the way Wells did in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, but Evelyn assures me there is a difference. -mrl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: 2nd Corollary to the Rennie's Law of Credibility: Any iconoclast with a scientifically unorthodox view who reminds you that Galileo was persecuted too . . . ain't Galileo.
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