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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/25/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 35 (Whole Number 1271)
Table of Contents
Bookmobile Day (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Somehow kids today are not as interested in learning as they used to be. I never waste an opportunity to tell the kids of today what it was like when I was a kid. I think I'm remembering this right. The Bookmobile would come down the street with its pleasant jingling bells on a warm summer day. Kids could hear those bells blocks away and would go running to their mothers shouting "Books!" and begging for their library cards. By that time the Bookmobile Man parked the bookmobile every kid on the block would be flocking around all yelling at once. The Bookmobile Man would open the back of his van up. "Who wants BEEZUS AND RAMONA? I have a new Curious George." The kids would all clamor at once. "Who wants to read about Madeline's trip to Paris? Who's interested in the Mushroom Planet? Here's the new Freddy the Pig adventure." I kept waiting for him to get to the Space Cat books. The pushier kids mostly got those. I remember that SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE almost started a fight. But the bookmobile man would wait for them to go and then pull out a Danny Dunn book or a MISS PICKERELL GOES TO MARS. Kids don't seem to be like that any more. I wonder if I am remembering right and if they ever were. [-mrl]
No Eye in the Sky (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In Daniel Keyes's novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON we see the world through the eyes of Charley Gordon, who goes from being mentally retarded in a world he cannot understand to being a genius with a vision to see and know the world. But late in the novel we discover his ability to see and understand the world is only temporary and he must inevitably return to what he was. This condition of going from a position of perception to return to blindness is sort of how I feel over the decision to bring down the Hubble Telescope.
You likely have heard that the White House has cut the funding for the Hubble Space Telescope from the 2006 budget. What budget the space agency is getting is given to NASA with the instructions to use it to bring the telescope down out of orbit safely without dropping it on anybody's head. Actually NASA is getting a 2.5% increase in funding but that is all spoken for. The decision has been that after the Columbia problem that it may be too dangerous to send up astronauts to try to rescue the telescope. Instead they plan a simpler but more melancholy mission. They want to strap on a propulsion module that will drop the telescope out of orbit and plunk it down safely in the Pacific Ocean. (Safely if you are not a fish.) NASA has been directed instead to give its attention to getting the shuttle fleet operating reliably again.
The scientific community is very disappointed to hear the news. No other single scientific instrument ever made came close to having taught us so much about our universe. Because we have the Hubble we also have much better evidence that the universe as we know it started with the Big Bang. It has given us compelling proof of the existence of Black Holes. It has told us the age of our galaxy. And it has looked into space and showed us vistas we could not have imagined existed. That is what the Hubble has done for science. But I am worried about what losing the Hubble will mean to the non-scientific community. My personal opinion is that scrapping the Hubble Space Telescope would be regrettable in a lot of ways we cannot gauge.
There are lots of people who think that the space program is doing very little for Earth. NASA is not capturing the public interest as it did in the past and while most of the public seems to support funding for NASA, they find NASA's objective to be of low priority and to be matters they cannot relate to. On the other hand the Hubble Space Telescope actually is giving the public what it wants. From its unique vantage point of about 360 miles up it shows us pictures of a universe that is more beautiful than most people, including astronomers, have ever imagined. Go to science museums and see how many photographs you see were taken by the Hubble.
Okay, perhaps photographs are not something tangible, but we have gotten from the telescope a set of images that capture the imagination of the public. How often have we seen photographs of huge enigmatic but colorful pictures space. We now can get an inkling how physics paints the universe with matter and light. We need the telescope not just for knowledge but even more for inspiration. There is something about the Hubble images that capture the imagination. We need the Hubble to strobe the sense of wonder of everyone from scientists to young kids. We need it to excite the thirst for knowledge and for exploration. The telescope and what it saw remind us that we are on one little island in an ocean of wonders.
Compared to the Hubble, telescopes on the ground see so little. Even the biggest and best can see only glimpses distorted by a fluctuating and flowing ocean of atmosphere. The Hubble really is our eye on the universe. And I for one will be very disappointed if we let that eye be blinded.
When we lose the Hubble Telescope to save some budget money we will be left with photographs and memories of when we could really see the a sky that is now distorted and blurry. The emotion is much like knowing that once we could go to the moon but at least for now we cannot any longer. The feeling is also like that of Charley Gordon who knows that at one time he could perceive the world, but that ability is gone. The capability may still return. There are plans to go back to the moon and there are plans to put in orbit a new device, James Webb Space Telescope. This infrared telescope may well be able to tell us even more than the Hubble could, assuming it does go up, but it is still an unknown quantity. For now the public knows and generally has affection for the Hubble Space Telescope. It is the Hubble that excites the public and it is a shame to lose the one even if we may eventually be getting the other. And when the Hubble is gone, even if only temporarily, again the stars and the moon will be too far. [-mrl]
Puppy Starter Kit and Wild Parrots (letter of comment by Frank J. Nagy):
Just had to send in a couple of points...
On the Puppy Starter Kit: Some of my friends tried to convince me to get a cat for companionship. May 5, 2003, a pair of them showed up at my apartment door with a Cat Kit: litter box, litter, food and water bowls, food, cat toys, scratching post and ... a cat. A stray that Bonnie got (while cleaning her van she thought one of her cats was out and rubbing on her leg but it was a stranger. Thin and bedraggled, she put some food and water out for the cat and when she went to check on her, the cat came right into the house).
So I got a cat who attached herself to me right away. What no one knew was that Pixel (as I named my Cat Kit; Schroedinger was appropriate for a physicist's cat but not for a female, so I named her after the Cat Who Walks Through Walls) was already pregnant. One month after getting her, she had six kittens. I found other homes for 3 and today still have Pixel and three of her kittens.
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: During the 1970s I was a graduate student at CalTech in Pasadena. One morning, I was awoken early by a great unholy caterwauling. On my way into the lab I came upon a couple of trees filled with parrots from which the noise was originating. I was told that this was a flock of parrots that lived in the San Gabriele valley and apparently originated from pets that got loose and were able to survive and reproduce in the wild. [-fjn]
THE MESSIAH CODE (a.k.a.THE MIRACLE STRAIN)by Michael Cordy (book review by Tom Russell):
Our town librarians recently put another bunch of books out on the "For Sale" shelf; I found THE MIRACLE STRAIN by Michael Cordy (1997, ISBN 0-380-73042-1) for a dollar. I subsequently learned it was re-published with a new title, THE MESSIAH CODE, in 2004 (ISBN 0-060-76210-1). Perhaps fans of Dan Brown's "code" book will also buy Cordy's book? The library bought several copies. I borrowed one of those to see if Cordy had written an updated version.
The library system's key words for Cordy's book: "Fiction; Jesus Christ; Genetic Engineering; Brotherhood." "Fiction" but not "science fiction"--but any book with a scientist hero and a computer named IGOR must be science fiction.
Hang in there through the book's thriller-formula opening. Cordy's better ideas come later. DNA analysis is used to create hologram likenesses of suspects. A critical genetics lab experiment yields a baffling result: some groups of the mice inoculated with "the miracle strain" completely recover from disease, but others suffer and die. How? Why? Time is running out to save the hero's daughter. Later a hard-to-accept twist to the story is revealed to have been subtly presaged by one character's unusual name.
Did you wonder about the end of Mel Gibson's PASSION? We see Jesus alive and completely healed--except for the wounds from the nails. THE MESSIAH CODE has this "flaw." It's a plot element in a way. Neat. (You'll have to read the book to see what I mean.)
Michael Cordy updated his afterword note for the 2004 publication under the new title, but the novel itself is unchanged. The story is set in 2002, five years in the future when published in 1997; it would have been better, perhaps, to reset the dates to 2009 for the 2004 issue. Genetics research hasn't progressed quite as quickly as Cordy expected.
Cordy's book has similarities to THE DA VINCI CODE and to John Case's THE GENESIS CODE. It's worth a quick read just to find out why only some of the mice were healed. (Aha!) I hope the new title draws new readers. One big caution: skip the parts in italics--a few not-really-necessary character-explaining flashbacks that you might find offensive; they're definitely beyond "R"-rated. [-tr]
TRAUMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A man awakes from a coma to find his world changed and things no longer making sense. A film this unpleasant should at least be absorbing. This one is a hard film to get into and it really does not reward that effort. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
TRAUMA offers a lot of mood and a lot of nightmarish images. But is there a story really worth telling? Is there a story there at all? (To tell some of what is wrong would spoil the plot, so I will explain in an afterward flagged by spoiler warnings.) This story is almost as unpleasant to watch as it would have been in real life.
Ben (played by Colin Firth) is in an automobile accident and the world seems to have changed for him. He feels disoriented and out of place, problems that his psychiatrist seems to make only worse. He is seeing a strange figure in a parka. His interest in ants and spiders turns into a laxness and at odd moments we see them crawling on his body. He meets and befriends a neighbor Charlotte (Mena Suvari) and she takes him to a psychic who claims that his wife is not dead. The death of his wife seems to parallel the murder of a famous rock star and in odd ways it seems to blend into it. Ben retreats deeper and deeper into his own thoughts. There are lots of little clues as to what is happening but try as the viewer might they do not add up. The spiders, the ants, the shoes, the parka, what does it all mean?
Marc Evans directs this psychological drama from a screenplay by Richard Smith. It is unique in more ways than one including being the only film I have ever seen that individually credits featured ants. The film tries that hard to be weird. It succeeds at that, but I require more from a film. People who do not like ants and spiders may want to avoid this film. For some originality I will give this film a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10
Major Spoiler...Major Spoiler...
The story that I saw is not internally consistent. Much of it hinges on the question of whether Elisa was in the car at the time of the crash. Assuming the car was not vaporized (and it wasn't) the investigating police would know how many people from the car were killed in the crash. If the police knew, then Ben would have known unless this is one more film that turns out to be all in someone's head. Discussing the film I voiced this opinion and another viewer said that we were really seeing just what was in a psychotic's mind. That does seem to be the only consistent explanation, but if the only explanation that makes the content of the film possible is one that says that in this film virtually anything could have happened the filmmaker has broken faith with the audience. If the filmmaker is going to expect that the audience is going to invest logical consideration of his images, he has a responsibility to make sure those images have some logical meaning. They should not turn out to be the result of a dream or psychosis in which anything could happen and nothing is known. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have in the past talked about how expensive McFarland books are for the general reader. (For example, the CHRISTOPHER LEE FILMOGRAPHY by Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller costs $55.) But McFarland has a program to print some of their older titles, often in omnibus editions, at much more reasonable prices. So, for example, Bill Warren's classic work on Fifties science fiction films, KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES, cost $35 for each of the two volumes in 1982. Now they are available as a single volume for just $40, which after you consider inflation makes it even more of a bargain.
Two such omnibus volumes are Tom Weaver's DOUBLE FEATURE CREATURE ATTACK [containing ATTACK OF THE MONSTER MOVIE MAKERS (1994) and THEY FOUGHT IN THE CREATURE FEATURES (1995)) (ISBN 0-786-41366-2), and RETURN OF THE B SCIENCE FICTION AND HORROR HEROES (containing INTERVIEWS WITH B SCIENCE FICTION AND HORROR MOVIEMAKERS (1988) and SCIENCE FICTION STARS AND HORROR HEROES (1991)) (ISBN 0-786-40755-7). Weaver has been called "The King of the Interviewers" and these articles are collected over his many years of interviewing actors, directors, producers, and other filmmakers connected with classic science fiction and horror films. These are all pretty much "grab-bag" collections rather than by theme, so if you are interested in people who worked in Roger Corman films, for example, you will find them spread over all the volumes. On the other hand, if you are a fan of classic (and not-so-classic) science fiction and horror films and the people behind them, these are for you.
One theme running through many of the interviews, by the way, is that of the actor who wants to be taken seriously and who thinks of a particular role in a science fiction film as just another job to pay the rent, and then discovers twenty or forty years later that that role is what they are most remembered for. Most are pleased that they are remembered, but the pleasure is often tinged with sorrow for lost opportunities if that casting led to them being consider "only" a science fiction actor (or in the case of Eugene Lourie, a "dinosaur director"). Boris Karloff always talked about how grateful he was to the Monster for making his career, but he had made eighty films before that without "hitting it big". For an actor to be typecast before he feels he has had a chance is a different situation. In any case, some of the actors do make appearances at conventions and such, but few are actually science fiction fans. I find it interesting that Jane Wyatt seems to be much more in demand by "Star Trek" fans for appearances and autographs than Joseph Pevney. Who, you're probably asking is Joseph Pevney? He wrote the episode, "Journey to Babel", in which Wyatt appeared.
And speaking of fan cults, Donald Thomas's SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE RUNNING NOOSE (ISBN 0-330-48647-0) is yet another collection of "new" adventures of the master sleuth, and a pretty good one. Thomas sticks to the Victorian/Edwardian milieu and doesn't add a lot of sex or out-of-character goings-on. However--WARNING!!--this is the British/Canadian title of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE FROM THE CRYPT (ISBN 0-786-71325-9), so don't be fooled into buying both!! Thomas's first Holmes book, THE SECRET CASES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (ISBN 0-786-70636-8) does not appear to have any aliases. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: When men are easy in their circumstances, they are naturally enemies to innovations. --Joseph Addison
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