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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/08/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 41 (Whole Number 1277)
Table of Contents
My Take on America (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On one of my mailing lists we were discussing American foreign policy and someone said something that I found at once intriguing and irritating. What he said was:
"We're a fanatical race, we Americans. The god we (that's the root mean square 'we') believe in is a cartoon--Jesus as cowboy. We very piously beseech this god to 'bless America', and in so doing presume that he'll be at best indifferent--as we are--to the rest of the world. Umm, that's indifferent to their cultures and world views, of course. We've got a problem when we find *our* resources, which are our birthright, under their sand."
I wanted to share my response and my take on America.
I think that there are those on the left wing who want to exaggerate American's faults and see it as evil. You have those on the right wing who want to characterize America as a paragon of virtue. And the truth is somewhere in between with a lot of space on either side. The writer is one of the people negative on America, so my response will be about the gap on that side.
He says we are a fanatical race. We are actually not a race at all. We are a combination of many cultures. And being a combination of many cultures, in fact, has kept us fairly sanguine. When we were a combination of fewer cultures we committed atrocities against the native population, but the more cultures consenting to co-exist here, the more reasonable we become. Can anyone honestly look at people being stoned to death in the Middle East or at the ovens of Auschwitz or any of fifty other examples and still say we are amongst the most fanatical countries in the world?
America does have strength in large part because of our unique economic and geographical position. And we tend to use that strength to unilaterally elect ourselves the world's policeman in a world that desperately needs a policeman. And that is why we tend to intervene in other countries' problems. It was actually not for the giant oil fields of Somalia and Bosnia that we went into those counties to intervene in their problems. In Bosnia the mission was to save the lives of Moslems, and their religion did not seem to be a big factor in that decision to intercede. That was after Europe farbled and complained about what was going on in Bosnia and debated and did some nothing and then some more nothing--America is accused of racism for not intervening in the Rwandan genocide. It would be accused of interventionism if we had. It is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.
And most of the rest of the world is no better than Europe. I have a lot of respect for Australians who seems to be a generally very good people. But I lost some of that respect when I was in their country in 1999. In August, when I was there, East Timor chose independence from Indonesia. The territory fell into barbarity as pro-Indonesian militias and the army engaged in a campaign of terror and murder to suppress the people who stood for independence. This was all taking place pretty much on Australia's doorstep. And how was Australia reacting? People on television were angrily and indignantly asking, "Why isn't America doing something about it?" Australia was letting people die and waiting for the Americans to come from half a world away to set things right. Well, I do feel we are superior to some people if you want to know. The people who will criticize America as doing wrong no matter what it does are the people I feel superior to.
Those of the right wing who think the United States is on a mission from God and who are trying to turn this country into a theocracy are every bit as wrong as the correspondent above. But to my mind he is also every bit as wrong as they are. [-mrl]
Farbling (letter of comment by Carl Aveyard):
In repsonse to Mark's article on cold fusion in the 03/25/05 issue, Carl Aveyard says, "'Farbling'? Not in my OED...."
http://www.slangsite.com defines it as "To work aimlessly, amiably, without focus." I first heard it at the 1976 Worldcon in Kansas City, when they said that the half-time entertainment at the Masquerade would be extended because the judges were still farbling. [-ecl]
Native Americans (letters of comment):
In response to Mark's article on attitudes towards Native Americans in the 04/01/05 issue, Joseph T. Major wrote:
Your correspondent said "White Educated Folks dig up my ancestors' graves and they call it archaeology, if I went and dug up a two-hundred-year-old WEI [White European Immigrant] grave, what would they call it?"
Read MARTIN'S HUNDRED by Ivor Noel Hume where he discusses the digging up of graves of "White European Immigrants" in the Martin's Hundred settlement near Williamsburg, Virginia, as part of an archaeological investigation of the site.
Some of those people might have been my ancestors, you know. [-jtm]
Mark responded, "Point taken, though I would think that is more like 350 years."
And Fred Lerner wrote:
When I was in St. Petersburg I remarked on how much the exhibits on the native peoples of Siberia in the State Ethnographic Museum resembled those on native North American peoples in the great American natural-history museums. Traditionally North American museum keepers seem to have regarded ethnography as a branch of natural history. Perhaps this is because we never had a colonial empire in the European sense, and so no perceived need for something like the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, which commemorated the Dutch colonies in Surinam and the Indies. You seemed to hint at a more sinister explanation: perhaps it's because defining Native Americans as a natural phenomenon rather than a complex of civilisations made it easier to justify their subjugation.
In any case, the question of whether Native artifacts belong in a "natural history" museum seems irrelevant to whether it's appropriate to exhibit such works in an art museum. And I can't see any reason to lament or discourage the exhibition of contemporary work by Native artists in art museums. (I stipulate the exception of those works whose exhibition would contravene religious or cultural taboos subscribed to by the artist.) [-fl]
Movies about Books (letters of comment):
Evelyn's request for movies about books and bookstores in the 04/01/05 issue generated a lot of response.
Even before the issue was sent out, Mark responded: "Can I start you out? People study books and a book starts a romance in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Also there are BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (the Disney version), THE BIG SLEEP, BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS, LA DISCRETE, LE DIVORCE, THE EVIL DEAD I & II, THE FRISCO KID, FINAL CUT, I MADMAN, LOVE AND MONEY, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, NEVERENDING STORY I & II, NOTTING HILL, THE PAGEMASTER, PROSPERO'S BOOKS, SERENDIPITY, THE STONE READER, TALES FROM BEYOND, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, TURTLE DIARY, UNFAITHFUL, WRESTLING ERNEST HEMINGWAY, and YENTL. I can give you more if you include comic books (e.g., UNBREAKABLE) or people who read books in libraries (e.g., IPCRESS FILE, NIGHT OF THE DEMON) or films with scenes in bookstores (e.g., THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, UNTIL SUNSET, and THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS.)
Fred Lerner asked, "Has anyone ever made a movie of Christopher Morley's THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP?" The answer is no. Mark noted that the only Morley book adapted to film seems to be KITTY FOYLE: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF A WOMAN. Lerner responded, "His novels PARNASSUS ON WHEELS and its sequel THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP are justifiably beloved by bibliophiles. I'm surprised that they haven't been filmed. I wonder if they were ever adapted for television. Though on second thought, I doubt that their target audience would bother to watch them!"
Steve Lelchuk also recommended THE NEVERENDING STORY.
SIN CITY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The flash is exaggerated and the plot has minimal importance in this hyper-noir crime story based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. To take a phrase from the script, it is "loud and nasty." I have more respect than affection for this admittedly successful effort to give a film the feel of a graphic novel. But the characters were just not developed and the story has the resonance of a "Heavy Metal" comic book story. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
What's black and white and red all over? Well, one answer is the blood-soaked, enhanced-monochrome adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel SIN CITY. In this film co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller do for film noir what Sergio Leone did for the western. They make a film that is solid dramatic scenes without the plot connective tissue. I cannot say that there was no plot to SIN CITY. By the end of the film the pieces remarkably seem to add up to a kind of plot. (Please don't write me for explanations. I may have followed the plot for at most five minutes and then I might have been fooling myself.) But from one scene to the next the writers seem to be just throwing in plot complications that lead to more sensationalized scenes. This film has multiple castrations, a hanging, many nearly nude women, multiple serial killers, corrupt politicians . . . the list goes on and on and on and on.
SIN CITY has two kinds of scenes, those that are highly-charged and those that are super-charged. For me the excess of excess of excess became off-putting. The story has not one really interesting character and probably not one uninteresting scene. The dialog is not just over-ripe, it is downright fermented.
Understanding how any specific scene fits into the overall plot is not only pointless, it is nearly impossible. Perhaps it is best for the viewer to just let the film wash over him. There are multiple plots including one with the mob trying to take over Oldtown. That the seedy neighborhood of a place called Basin City that seems to have equal parts of New York and Los Angeles. Also, there are interlocking plots concerning two or three serial killers.
This is a film of much more style than substance. Even if the scenes all fit together to make a plot, it would be a rather hackneyed one. One scene after another is soaked in blood and testosterone. If you drew a line from Raymond Chandler to Mickey Spillane and extended it out three times you would get to SIN CITY.
Maybe there is not more blood than in other film but it just seems there is a lot because it is highlighted. The film is shot in color then the color is removed entirely or with the possible exception of one or two objects in a scene. Maybe the entire scene will be monochrome and just the copious splattered blood will be in vivid red. This was a visual technique pioneered in the 1992 film ZENTROPA and in television ads for some "simple yellow pill" whose name I have forgotten. Stephen Spielberg also used it for some scenes of SCHINDLER'S LIST. Here the technique combines with Robert Rodriguez's terrific photography to recreate the potent if less than realistic images of the art work in a Frank Miller comic book. And the imitation of graphic style is impressive.
Bruce Willis plays John Hartigan, a misunderstood hero with a good heart and a bad one (figuratively and medically respectively). This is a film that is top-heavy with familiar faces, some in unfamiliar make-up. Without knowing he was in the film, I spotted Mickey Rourke, but I was proud of myself for doing so. Also along are notables like Elijah Wood, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clark Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen, Nick Stahl, Rutger Hauer, and Powers Booth. Wow, that is an impressive cast, and at least they know to not play the film tongue-in-cheek.
This is a film full of testosterone-stoked cliches. There is a lot of sound and fury but not much in the way of any substance. But visually it is hypnotic. On balance I rate it +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
KUNG FU HUSTLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review was originally printed in the 01/07/05 issue of the MT VOID, but since the film is getting its United States release today, we are reprinting it.]
CAPSULE: From the director of SHAOLIN SOCCER comes this satire on the Shaw Brothers martial arts films, which is live-action but takes on the style of a cartoon. It is a very funny film, even for people who are not kung fu enthusiasts. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Very few comedies actually make me actually laugh out loud. I did not have high expectations of a film with a title like KUNG FU HUSTLE. Martial arts films usually do not do much for me. To say I laughed out loud is one of the highest compliments I can give a comedy. All my low expectations were dashed. This film written by, directed by, and starring Stephen Chow was the funniest comedy I saw in 2004.
The scene is the 1940s and the story opens in a police station with a super-elite squad of police being mopped up by the incredible force of one legendary street gang. I mean these guys are really tough. After totally destroying the police the gang walks out to the street only to run into The Axe Gang. The gang that the police could not stop is in seconds wiped out by the even more incredibly powerful Axe Gang. These are people in their suits, ties, and top hats that never even get mussed and are not to be trifled with. The Axe Gang members are mean and they are powerful. They also dance very stylishly. Their influence has spread just about everywhere but to a little slum called Pig Sty Alley. This looks like just a normal low-rent section of Shanghai. The residents play off of each other in very normal ways. Living there is not easy and it has made the denizens tough. Now the super-powerful Axe Gang wants to take over the streets of Pig Sty Alley. The smart money would bet on the Axe Gang. But then the smart money doesn't live in Pig Sty Alley if it is really smart. The Axe Gang finds taming this one little slum neighborhood will take more than they could ever imagine.
This wild satire of old Shaw Brothers' kung fu films is live action but has the level of reality of a Chuck Jones cartoon. The unexpected and hilarious happens time after time, catching the viewer by surprise. The mammoth battles are outdone by the supreme battle. The supreme battles are brushed away by the ultimate battles and the ultimate battles are pushed aside by even more absolute battles. Stephen Chow previously directed SHAOLIN SOCCER, a film that enjoyed great popularity worldwide. After seeing KUNG FU HUSTLE I rented SHAOLIN SOCCER. Stephen Chow seems to get better with every film. I give KUNG FU HUSTLE a rating of a high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10. [-mrl]
MINDSCAN by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2005, TOR, $24.95, 303pp, ISBN 0-765-31107-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I've said that the best science fiction is not about the gadgets or the technology, but about how the gadgets or technology affect the lives of the characters in the story (that's not to say that I don't think the cool techie stuff isn't important or that I don't like it--I love it). MINDSCAN is the *perfect* example of this statement. Indeed, it is not only that--it is a tremendous example of how technology affects an entire species.
MINDSCAN is the latest novel from Hugo-winning Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer's novels have always been full of ideas, and this one is no different. In traditional Sawyer fashion, this novel tells a terrific story in a straightforward, "let's not intentionally confuse the reader" fashion. In my opinion, this is what makes him one of the top writers in the field today.
Oh yeah--the book. :-)
The story takes place in our century (remember when a story taking place in the 21st century was futuristic?). The technology to copy one's consciousness and have it loaded into an android body has been developed. It is, of course, a technology available only to the rich--at least for now. And so our main characters, Jake Sullivan (heir to a large Canadian brewery business), and Karen Bessarian (an author whose background is based on J.K. Rowling), are fairly filthy rich. People who undergo the Mindscan process are generally old, infirm, and dying --they want to live a longer life. Jake is not old--he is about my age (no wisecracks from the editor of this fine electronic publication, please :-)), but he has a condition which could cause him to keel over at any moment. So, since he wants to live longer than he's likely to, he undergoes the process. Karen is old--her popular dinosaur novels are years behind her, but she wants to continue to write--so she undergoes the process.
But there is, of course, a catch (there's *always* a catch)--once your consciousness is copied into (onto?) the android, your original body--your shed skin, if you will--is shipped off to the far side of the moon to live out the rest of its days without ever seeing or talking to its android counterpart. The Mindscan copy is now the real you, since you've signed your rights over to it.
And so leads to the dual conflicts in the story. A cure is found for Jake's condition, and after he undergoes the curative surgery he wants to go back to earth and lead his normal life. Karen's son is suing her android for access to the estate--his claim is that his real mother is dead, that the android has no claim to either her estate or her life. To complicate matters a little more, the android Jake and Karen are now romantically involved.
The remainder of the novel investigates the issue of just what makes up a person--what makes them real, what makes them conscious, what makes them who they are. Is the person the body, is it the consciousness, is it the soul? (As an interesting by- play to this whole thing, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, passed away recently. If the Mindscan process were available today, would he undergo it, and then would the android pope be considered a real person and the actual representative of the Christian God here on Earth? Indeed, if so, would the worldwide Catholic population accept a machine as the head of the Church? Just asking.) And does it matter if the consciousness is inside a mechanical body?
The book takes on another challenge--that of telling a story from two different viewpoints that are the same character. Sawyer takes on this challenge and does a terrific job. It also isn't afraid to tackle the issues mentioned in the previous paragraph (other than the Pope--there's another story in there somewhere[*]), but there are many more that could have been covered in a much longer novel. But the novel isn't long because it doesn't need to be. Sawyer tells the story he wants to in a tightly compacted fashion--he always does. The story he wants to tell here is really the beginning of the effect that the Mindscan process has on humanity--the rest of the story is not the point-- although if he wants to revisit this particular setting, I dare say he could write three or four novels about this.
All in all, to quote someone else, this is vintage Sawyer. Pick this one up. You'll love it. [-jak]
[(*) I reminded Joe that Clifford Simak did something similar to this in PROJECT POPE. -ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I watched the film THE NAME OF THE ROSE recently, so I decided to re-read the Umberto Eco novel (ISBN 0-156-00131-4). The movie was actually a fairly decent adaptation, as these things go. But a lot of the theological discussion had to be cut, and they had to give it a Hollywood ending (i.e., the library still burns, but the girl survives). This is similar to the adaptation of THE CLUB DUMAS by Arturo Perez-Reverte into the film THE NINTH GATE. In that, one reason for the title change was that the entire Alexander Dumas thread was dropped. I suppose that means we could still see a movie called THE CLUB DUMAS which contains that thread. Somehow, though, I doubt there will be another movie of THE NAME OF THE ROSE containing the theological threads.
George Eliot's LIFE AND LETTERS (no ISBN) is an interesting attempt at autobiography edited by Eliot's husand J. W. Cross. (You did know that George Eliot was a pen-name for Mary Ann Evans, right?) It consists of close to a thousand pages of letters and extracts from letters, along with connecting and explanatory comments by Cross. I've seen similar collections of letters for other people, but I think Cross put in more additional material than is usual. Of course, if you are not a fan of Eliot's novels, this is not going to appeal to you, and even if you are, this is out of print. But it's still around a bit, and a research library might have a copy.
THE OXFORD BOOK OF ENGLISH DETECTIVE STORIES edited by Patricia Craig (ISBN 0-192-80375-1) is a 1990 collection of the classics of that genre. It is a great collection, even if the people who are most likely to be interested in it are also the most likely to have read many of the stories already. It might make a good gift for someone who has just discovered the English detective story, though, and needs a sampler to see which authors he might like. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The temptation shared by all forms of intelligence: cynicism. --Albert Camus
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