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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/03/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 49 (Whole Number 1285)
Table of Contents
Separated at Birth? No, Can't Be. (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Is it my imagination or does the recent reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman's face look just a bit like actress Lili Taylor?
A Time of Endings: Godzilla (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
With two other science fiction franchises coming to an end, much less notice is being given to a third important series. Currently being released in this country is GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. I have had people look at me strangely when I have said that this is an important science fiction series and lament its passing. Most Americans seem to associate Godzilla with silly man-in- rubber-suit monsters clumsily stepping through miniature sets. Do I seriously respect Godzilla films? In fact I do. Perhaps not as much as "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", but it has been an important force.
I was probably five years old and already a little interested science fiction when TV started showing ads for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS on television. It was years before I got to see the film, but it was a definite dream of mine to see the film with the nightmarish images I saw in the TV ads. Friends would talk about having seen it and how it did just what the atomic bomb did.
One of the most interesting things that I knew about the film is that it was actually a Japanese film. People in other countries made monster movies! In my young mind there were three cultures in the world. There was our American culture, there was Japan, and there was everything else. Every five years or so from that point on I would pick up something new that fascinated me and came from Japan, the "other" culture. First it was Godzilla, then origami, then the samurai armor in the local art museum. (This was in the 1960s, years before SHOGUN was released in 1980 and suddenly there was a nationwide fascination with Japan's feudal tradition.). Then I discovered sushi, then samurai films, then the little netsuke (pronounced "netski") figures. But it all started with Godzilla. In fact, this country's fascination with Japan started with the very successful release of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS.
Godzilla is popular. The producers at Toho claim that it is the longest running film franchise of all time. (I do not know how much consideration they have given to Italy's Maciste.) Fifty years of Godzilla films is some an impressive record. But do I actually think Godzilla films are good? Well, I would probably say not in the Ingmar Bergman sense. I would say that the films are a mixed bag. I would certainly say yes to the question asked about the film GOJIRA.
The original Godzilla film that we in the United States saw, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS and released in 1956 was a re- edited version of the Japanese film GOJIRA. The Americans re- edited and crudely added scenes with Raymond Burr. This gave the film an American hero and somewhat eased backlash from the war that was fought eleven years earlier.
The original 1954 film GOJIRA, produced by Japan's Toho Studio, imitated KING KONG and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, but it managed to use its low budget and some real inventiveness to advantage making nightmarish and memorable imagery. For example, the filmmakers realized their waxy props melted under the bright lighting giving a weird effect. So the monster was given fiery breath to take advantage of the newly discovered effect. Most impressively we see the monster (mostly) only at night, lit from below, and shot from a low level. This makes the creature look huge and adds a touch of realism. The monster was played in the only way the budget allowed, with a man in a suit. It was given a feeling of mass by over-cranking the camera, effectively filming the creature in slow motion. The writing also is eerily effective. It opens with a fishing boat seeing a bright flash described by survivors as "the sea exploded." What could be more eerie than something as inert as sea water suddenly exploding?
The popular notion these days is that the American producer of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, Joseph E. Levine, re-edited the film to edit out its anti-nuclear and anti-American message. That is the belief I have seen repeated multiple times by different writers. And like many popular notions I think it is false. I have seen both versions, several times each. The essential message that Godzilla was like the atomic bomb and that scientists bear responsibility for how their discoveries are used is very carefully retained. Even the debate was over whether the monster should be studied rather than killed. Only one scene that I felt added substance to the original was excised. This was very probably the most poignant scene I remember ever seeing in a monster film. (I realize it is not a great selection.) There is one scene as Godzilla is rampaging through Tokyo. We see at the base of a building a woman cowering and shielding her two young children and re-assuring them by telling them they will be with their father soon. This is pretty strong stuff and I am not surprised it was eliminated for the American release.
GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS was the first Japanese film that was an international success. And it was a big one. It overcame the Americans' hatred for their defeated enemy to become an indelible part of pop culture. Sequels were a natural consequence. In the series it spawned the films were aimed at younger and younger audiences. Godzilla was turned from a nasty monster to the terrible defender of Japan. (An idea of the terrible defender perhaps had its origin in the Golem of Prague.) The series made one or two entertaining entries before it was turned into a set of light-hearted monster fests and the films were generally rather juvenile. From this point on the most serious message the films would have was that pollution was bad because it creates monsters. The virtues of all the other films in this series (and the later series until the present) are mostly just that they are fun. The films became hopelessly juvenile and wound itself down with stories that pitted monster against monsters and monsters against evil aliens. Then Godzilla went into hiatus.
In the early 1980s Toho apparently realized they had mismanaged their property and decided to look at the monster afresh. They would ignore the fact that they had made sequels in the past. They made a second film that was intended as an immediate sequel to the original and started a new series. In this country the film was called GODZILLA '85. The series made many of the same mistakes as the first series, but it was arguably on a higher level with a story arc of competing government agencies with different ideas as to how to as to what to do about the monster menace. Eventually this series killed off Gojira, only to have him replaced by an offspring.
With the series dead, Toho licensed Tri-Star Pictures to make an American Godzilla film. Toho had retained approval on the look of the monster. When this turned out to be too similar to their concept they vetoed the design and Tri-Star played it safe and designed a Godzilla whose appearance was almost entirely unlike the original. The film was terrible, but it succeeded in raising public awareness of Godzilla.
Toho apparently decided that the most popular films of the last series was a new direct sequel to the original film, why not make more immediate sequels. They had a new "alternate universe" series, each film was a different concept for what could be a second film in a series that started with the original GOJIRA. Some of these were their most creative films since the first 1954 film. However, Toho has reportedly decided to abandon the film altogether after the currently running GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Now that series is dead. Supposedly. But the series has been resurrected twice after it had died. Perhaps it will be back. Godzilla is gone but Japanese media and art and film, including anime and samurai films, are still hugely popular in an international market pioneered by a most unlikely cultural ambassador, the man-in-a-rubber-suit dinosaur Godzilla. [-mrl]
Godzilla (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel):
Last week, in discussing "Star Trek", Mark wrote, "Well, I have written myself in a corner, now. I need to put together two more articles: 'A Time of Endings: Star Wars' and 'A Time of Endings: Godzilla.' I think I know what I will say for the first, but not so sure about Godzilla." [-mrl]
Dan responded, "End of Godzilla? Never. He's just going to rest a while. Just remember, there's a little bit of Godzilla in all of us." [-dk]
To which Mark replies, "I have a chip off one of his dorsal fins lodged in my pancreas." [-mrl]
THE ALGEBRAIST by Iain M. Banks (copyright 2004, Orbit, C$42.00, 534pp, ISBN 1-84149-155-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
We continue in our survey of this year's Hugo nominees with a look at another of the New Space Opera by a U.K. author, THE ALGEBRAIST. Banks's contribution to the space opera sub-genre joins works by Alastair Reynolds and Charles Stross in making me believe that *someone* out there actually does write the books that I love to read.
In my recent review of Sawyer's MINDSCAN I wrote the following: ". . . 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 . . . ."
Well, the *other* best science fiction is that stuff that is all about cosmic scope, weird aliens, interstellar war, megalomanical villains, and those neat gadgets. That's really what I fell in love with when I first read science fiction, and THE ALGEBRAIST has it all.
It is the 41st century, and humanity has reached the stars. There is an interstellar wormhole network that allows quick travel between star systems, and this network has allowed a great galactic civilization to spring up. There are aliens out there too, all sorts of weird ones. The ones we're concerned with are the Dwellers. The Dwellers live in the atmospheres of gas giants. They are a, well, slightly batty race--they do things like hunt their young, fight formal wars that are more games and contests than they are about anything else, and hoard data. Lots of data. Lots of potentially useful and interesting data--that has no order or organization to it whatsoever.
Our protagonist--I hesitate to call him our hero--is Fassin Taak. He is a Slow Seer--someone who travels among and visits the Dwellers in order to research their data. These research expeditions are called Delves. During a Delve many years ago, Taak inadvertently uncovered some information that is now the cause of a rapidly approaching interstellar war the likes of which hasn't been seen in a very long time.
You see, a while back the wormhole near the planet Nasqueron was destroyed, effectively cutting off humanity there from the rest of the galaxy. A new wormhole has been constructed and is on its way, but in the meantime (roughly two hundred years), humans are isolated. There is a rumor, however, of a secret Dweller network of wormholes. In fact, there is a document called the Dweller List, which is supposed to be a list of gas giants near which wormholes to their network exist. However, the list is old. There is supposed to be a formula called the Transform, which, when applied to the list, will give the true location of the Dweller wormholes, thus opening up a whole new network for the rest of galactic civilization to use.
Remember that information that Fassin Taak uncovered? It is contained in the third volume of a work called "The Algebraist", and it is indeed the Transform. The Starveling Cult has found out about it, and, led by the aforementioned megalomanical evil guy Archimandrite Luseferous, they are coming to take over the Nasqueron system by force and get the Transform for themselves.
Folks, this is really cool stuff. The action is fast paced--the novel may be over 500 pages in length, but there's no padding here. This is the real deal, a space opera worthy of the label and definitely Hugo material. The only real shame is that it's not available in the U.S. right now. I ordered mine from Amazon U.K., although I'm told it can be acquired faster if ordered from Amazon of Canada. In fact, you'll note the price I list at the beginning is the Canadian price--there is no U.S. price yet that I know of. But whatever you do, go out and get this one. It's well worth the cost.
Next up is RIVER OF GODS by Ian McDonald. [-jak]
MILWAUKEE, MINNESOTA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review was published in the 11/14/03 issue of the MT VOID, but is being re-run because it is finally getting a release here.]
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
Albert (played by Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda) is a childlike man living in dingy and cold Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His mother treats him like a little boy, which is just about what he is. She ferries him to and from his job in a photocopy shop run by an overly sympathetic supervisor (Bruce Dern). His one claim to fame is that he is a terrific ice fisherman and wins tournament after tournament. His autistic mind picks up on the subtleties of fish behavior.
Albert's mother Edna forcefully manipulates Albert. She is not happy when two young drifters, Tuey (Alison Folland) and her brother Stanley, come to town and Tuey flirts with her Albert. She knows they are up to no good. Another stranger comes to town, Jerry (Randy Quaid). Then Edna is killed in a hit-and-run accident and Albert suddenly falls heir to a fair amount of money. Tuey wants to get her hands on that money and perhaps Jerry wants to beat her to it, or perhaps Jerry has another reason for being around. Bruce Dern's character also claims to be interested in Albert's welfare. Just what is going on? Whatever it is, it seems to have deep roots in the past.
The film, written by R. D. Murphy, nicely keeps the audience guessing in this feeding frenzy of crooks. A particularly nice scene has all the no-goods come together at one dinner.
Allan Mindel is a first-time director. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Everyone seems to be writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches these days, or at least stories with Sherlock Holmes as the main character. This week I read two.
Mitch Cullin's A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND (ISBN 0-385-51328-3) is not a Holmes pastiche in the usual sense of the term. There are a couple of mysteries involved, but the focus is not so much on solving them as on Holmes as an old man, ninety-two years old and dealing with both the physical and the mental infirmities that so often accompany old age. He can no longer take in a scene at a glance and remember it perfectly. As he expresses it, "Over time, I have realized my mind no longer operates in such a fluid manner. . . . My means for recall--those various groupings of words and numbers--aren't as easily accessible as they were. Traveling through India . . . I stepped from the train somewhere in the middle of the country . . . and was promptly accosted by a dancing, half-naked beggar, a most joyous fellow. Previously, I would have observed everything around me in perfect detail . . . but that rarely happens anymore. I don't remember the station building and I cannot tell you if there were vendors or people nearby. All I can recall is a toothless brown-skinned beggar dancing before me, and arm outstretched for a few pence. What matters to me now is that I possess that delightful vision of him; where the event took place is of no account. Had this occurred sixty years ago, I would have been quite distraught for being unable to summon the location and its minutiae. But now I retain only what is necessary. The minor details aren't essential--what appears in my mind these days are rudimentary impressions, not all the frivolous surroundings. And for that I am grateful."
I'm sure some will complain of this "aging" of the story. After all, most people get hooked on the Sherlock Holmes stories when they are fairly young, and A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND has lacks any of the adventure of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, or any of the detection skills shown in A STUDY IN SCARLET. In science fiction, a fair number of people have taken up the complaint that the "sense of wonder" is vanishing, replaced by stories about old age and downbeat futures. And this story may indicate a similar trend in other fields (though the downbeat world here is not the future, but a bombed-out post-WWII Japan.) Twenty years ago, we had YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, looking at a childhood (patterned more after Indian Jones than Sherlock Holmes, one suspects), but now we get what is in essence "Sherlock Holmes--The Twilight Years". Is this because authors are getting older, or because readers of books are getting older, or (possibly) not even an accurate description of the current state of writing? In any case, I am also getting older, and so at least for me this book was a thoughtful change from the vast number of books set during Holmes's prime. (Has anyone ever tried to take all the pastiches and fit them into a timeline? I suspect that, like "M*A*S*H" on television, or Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" series, there are more stories than time to fit them into. And Mark has noted that James Bond forty years after DR. NO still seems to be the same age, so the timeline there is obviously off as well.
Caleb Carr's THE ITALIAN SECRETARY (ISBN 0-7867-1548-0) is a straightforward Holmes story. The "Italian secretary" of the title is David Rizzio (music teacher to Mary, Queen of Scots), who was killed three hundred years ago. But his ghost may or may not be involved in some very strange murders in Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. There are a couple of problems with this novel. One is that Carr, although an historian, has no ear for the use (or mis-use of ahistorical words. So in the first dozen or so pages, we run across such words as "odds-on", "sonic", and "electronic" scattered among the supposedly Victorian prose, and each time it's like tripping over a concealed rock. And I find the use of the supernatural in Holmes stories problematic in general. At the end either it turns out that there *are* supernatural goings- on (which to my mind is completely contrary to the spirit of the Sherlock Holmes canon--no pun intended), or there aren't, in which case the reader feels they have been led down the garden path. (Yes, in some of Doyle's stories, a ghost is suggested, but Holmes immediately discounts that idea. I'm talking about stories in which he is not so adamant.) Somehow, I just can't recommend this book
One doesn't expect to get mathematics from St. Augustine, but I did actually find some in his CITY OF GOD (previously discussed in the 05/06/05 issue of the VOID). In Chapter XI, section 30, Augustine discusses "the perfection of the number six". God created the world in six days, he says, because six is the first number which is the sum of its "parts" (by which he means factors). Six is divisible by one, two, and three, and is also the sum of one, two, and three. He explains the mathematics of perfect numbers and then says, "This point seemed worthy of a brief mention to show the perfection of the number six . . . and in this number God brought his works to complete perfection. Hence the theory of number is not to be lightly regarded, since it is made quite clear, in many passages of the holy Scriptures, how highly it is to be valued. It was not for nothing that it was said in praise of God, 'You have ordered all things in measure, number and weight' [Wisdom 11:21]." Of course, I'd be more impressed with his number theory if in XI:31 he did not say, "Three is the first odd whole number, and four the first whole even number," which is some odd definition of either "first" or "even". (He goes on to say that seven, being the sum of these two, is often used to stand for an unlimited number.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self. --Aldous Huxley
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