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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/24/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 52 (Whole Number 1288)
Table of Contents
Increasing Interest in Science Fiction:
An article on James Gunn's attempts to increase interest in written science fiction can be found at http://tinyurl.com/9bmce.
Hobb's End (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching the film IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. It has all sorts of weird and evil things happening in the town of Hobb's End. It actually the name is an allusion to my choice for the best science fiction film ever made, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. (It is also known as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. As an aside, it used to be that I would bring this film up at science fiction convention panels because nobody had heard of it and people were missing a great film. The last time I did that the audience applauded the film so I guess I can stop flogging this film. It is no longer obscure.) In it, weird happenings go on at an underground station called Hobb's End. I told Evelyn I don't know why Hobb's End sounds so evil. Since the Middle Ages Hobb's End has been known as a traditional kissing spot. (If you don't get the joke, perhaps it is just as well.) [-mrl]
Sailing Starry Seas (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[Postscript placed at the beginning: As some of you may know, this attempt ended in failure when the Russian missile malfunctioned. Hopefully this is only a delay. --mrl]
Early fantasies of space travel envisioned ships pulled by teams of birds or versions of balloons. Some fantastic accounts of voyages into space pictured it being on flying ships like the sailing ships in the seas. They were supposedly being propelled by winds in space. Of course such things as space ships pulled by sails would not really work. Not until now. I write this on Tuesday, June 21, 2005, which may well become a historic date. Not only is it the day of the year that we get the sunlight the longest; it is also a day when we launch an elegant spacecraft that will have a bold new use for that sunlight. Today is the launch of a new design of spacecraft that has been the subject of science fiction, but only that, for years.
The Cosmos 1 one hopes will be the first working solar-sail. That is, it is a craft that uses as its power only the sun on a giant solar sail. Among other things it does it adds a great deal of prestige to the concept of Carl Sagan's Planetary Society. When he was alive, Sagan championed the solar sail and his widow, Ann Druyan, continues to champion it after his death. Today is something of a triumph for Sagan. The unmanned craft weighs in at only about 220 pounds and consists of a central fuselage and eight triangular sails that will project out of the core to a length of about fifty feet.
As if that was not dramatic enough, the means of its being placed in orbit is also spectacular. A Russian Delta III submarine in the Barents Sea will launch a Volna missile carrying the Cosmos I. This missile has been converted into a two-stage rocket that will carry the Cosmos I into space orbit. On Friday, the day of this notice, the Mylar sails will open up and catch the light of the sun. Mylar is the light, thin, shiny material that party balloons are frequently made of. Sunlight may not seem to exert a whole lot of force, but it is enough to push the Cosmos I. Force is mass times acceleration. The mass has been kept as small as possible. Unfortunately the force is not very large either so the acceleration will be small. But the craft will be in space, five hundred miles up, where there is no atmosphere to slow it. It will just sit there in orbit very slowly accelerating. It will gain about four miles per hour each hour. After a while that will be enough speed to do something with. Among the things it will do will be to achieve a higher orbit. Even there the mission of this craft will be limited. The life of the struts for the sails is measured in weeks so this little craft will not go very far. The pressurized gas that keeps Cosmos 1's ribs in place will probably leak eventually. The ship's orbit will decay and it will burn up in the atmosphere. A more durable version might go to Mars or considerably beyond.
This is not the first solar-sail in space. The Japanese have already sent up two to test sail deployment, but not to actually use the propulsion. This is actually the second attempt by the planetary society. A previous attempt to send up two-sail model failed to separate from the delivery rocket and crashed in Kamchatka, Russia. This technology may be somewhat limited. Its relation to rockets is sort of like the relation an air balloon has to a powered airplane. It is more graceful, but less powerful. At least if the sails are strong enough a solar-sail does not run out of fuel. Ever. But the sail-ships are getting attention. Both NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency are working on solar-sail projects. A spokesman for The Planetary Society says that they will not be able to compete with NASA for long and that the large scale projects are going to be NASA's in the future. The competition between the Planetary Society and NASA could hardly be friendlier since each is hoping the other will be successful. But being privately funded, the Planetary Society cannot long compete. The price of this experiment is about four million dollars.
Because the Cosmos I has an orbit of 78-degree inclination it should be visible in the sky from most of the earth at one time or another. There is not much north of 78-degress north or south of 78-degrees south.
"Solar sailing is really the only known technology that could potentially take us to the stars one day, because it does not have to carry fuel with it and because it can keep accelerating-- even at incredible distances," said Amir Alexander of the Planetary Society. [-mrl]
[Ah, well. Next time. -mrl]
Censorship (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In regard to Mark's comments in the 06/17/04 issue of the MT VOID regarding AOL censoring the name of the town of Scunthorpe, Taras Wolansky sent a URL to an article in the RISKS digest, http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/18.07.html#subj3 documenting this, and added, "Another source explained that AOL had the fellow use "Sconthorpe" only as a temporary workaround, until the bug was fixed. But this is one of those "stories too good to let die": the Plotka page referenced-- http://www.plokta.com/plokta/issue1/aol.htm--is undated. [-tw]
[The info for the page indicates it was updated 22 April 2001, though of course the main content could be even older. -ecl]
Hugo Nominees (letter of comment by Joe Karpierz):
Joe Karpierz writes:
With regard to Evelyn's comments about the short fiction hugo nominees [also here:
I haven't finished them all yet, but will soon, but I see that once again her tastes and mine are polar opposites.
In the novelette category, I am currently reading the Flynn, and am finding it rather drab and slow. The Rosenbaum was an incomprehensible mess, and I can't possibly understand why *it* got nominated. It did nothing but put me to sleep on the train. I do agree with her on the Link, and I liked the Rowe and the Bacigalupi. In fact, at this point, without finishing the Flynn, I would say the order would be:
In the short category I immediately disagree with Evelyn (of course--why would this category be any different?) in that there are at least three stories that deserve to win the award, let alone be nominated. Resnick's "Travels with Cats" is one of those--unlike Evelyn, I think it is definitely a high quality story that stirs the emotions. I thought Burstein's "Decisions", while fairly formulaic, to be well written and a plain old good story. The Sawyer is an interesting one. Do I vote for it here, or do I wait until next year, and, pending the competition, vote for MINDSCAN for Best Novel, which is the expansion of "Shed Skin"? As far as the Kelly goes, I think Evelyn misses the point. I don't think that the invocation of Christmas is story booster, as it were, but the fact that for many people Christmas is a happy time of year, and in fact many people remember fondly their good Christmas seasons of the past. I believe that Kelly used Christmas to bring the "happy" theme to the forefront. Heck, if some other holiday would have worked just as well, he could have used that. I agree with her about the other Resnick (what's this world coming to?).
As far as the Long Form Dramatic Presentation goes, well, here we go again. I had and have no inclination to see ETERNAL [SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND]. It doesn't interest me in the least. If I get a chance I may rent it just to have seen all five nominees. SKY CAPTAIN [AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW] was just stunningly average--so much could have been done with that. The third "Harry Potter" was much better than the first two--and I disagree that it should have "added" to the book, as I inferred from Evelyn's statement. However, it was nothing to write home about. THE INCREDIBLES has some "interesting ideas"? This movie works on so many different levels it is incredible, as it were. Yes, it works very well as a superhero story. It works really well as a story of repression--the repression of those with power, those that are different from the norm. It works really well in portraying what that repression can do to a family and a marriage--Mr. Incredible going off and leading his secret life, hiding it from his wife (and in fact, we see what typically happens when a husband or wife decides to have an affair--the spouse works out to get in shape, gets a new car, is gone a lot for work, etc. In fact, the new job for Mr. Incredible *is* his mistress). And it works really well portraying a family where everyone has superpowers, and how the parents deal with (or don't) the kids in normal and not so normal ways. It's no wonder that this movie is one of the favorites.... And then there's SPIDERMAN 2. I can't comment on whether Evelyn has ever read comic books at all, let alone the original "Amazing Spiderman" books. This works because Peter Parker, in spite of all his powers, still can't get it right. He can't get the girl, can't get the job, can't do well at school, and he should be able to succeed in all of them. We identify with Parker. For those of us in my generation who grew up reading Spidey, and of course those who read it now, as written by J. Michael Straczynski of "Babylon 5" fame (and who is now taking over the Fantastic Four-- yet another book I read growing up and a movie I'm looking forward to), we are seeing an extremely well done movie with regard to plot, story, and effects--that lives up to the Spidey legacy. It is truly a feel good movie. But all that's just my opinion. :-)
Can I go read Thomas Covenant now? :-) [-jak]
Merlot (letter of comment by Pete Brady):
In response to Mark's comments about sales of Merlot versus Pinot Noir in the 06/17/04 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Brady writes, "Cathy and I were in Italy in late April and had, at dinnertime, some Marzimino wine, which is made in the Trentino province, just south of Austria. In Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, the Don is having his last, luxurious meal and is served this wine, to which he exclaims (in the opera libretto) "Excellente marzimino." We purchased some at around $16 a bottle (ie, not expensive) and brought it home, and a week ago had a dinner party at which five people shared a bottle. It is not available in America, as nearly as I can determine, and a few stores around here have never heard of it. We all thought it was fine. After the bottle was finished, we produced a bottle of Kendall Estates California Merlot. It tasted like adequate wine to which sweet corn syrup had been added. It was nowhere near the quality of the other wine. [-ptb]
Mark responds, "Okay, so maybe there was something behind his hatred of Merlot. Of course, I may have missed a lot of what was going on in the film because I cannot stand the taste of alcohol. In my whole life I have probably not drunk enough alcohol to make you drunk. I know about as much about wine as I do about diseases of the spleen. :-)" [-mrl]
H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the first film to do the novel in the period in which it was intended. The acting is stylized; the photography is stylized; the special effects are stylized. All this effectively evokes a period feel on a dime-store budget. This exceptionally faithful adaptation of the Wells novel, but is a film that will appeal to only a very narrow audience. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The new version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS seems to be channeling Karel Zeman. Zeman was a Czech filmmaker who made several remarkable and heavily stylized movies. Frequently adapting classic works of science fiction or fantasy, he had a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style. His special effects were not lavish, but instead looked like they were done imaginatively on a tiny budget. If the films were not always highly-polished, they were done with panache, creativity, and frequently a whimsical feel. For THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, Zeman combined live-action with what appeared to be animated Gustave Dore lithograph illustrations. They evoked the feel of the classic editions of Verne that had been illustrated by Dore. Zeman's other films include THE LOST AIRSHIP, ON THE COMET (both based on Jules Verne), and THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN.
Karel Zeman is no more, but, intentionally or not, the spirit of Zeman is very much alive in H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, directed and co-written by Timothy Hines. It is one of this year's three versions of that novel and may well end up being my favorite of the three. With what are occasionally somewhat playful comic-opera performances Hines gives us an extremely accurate and faithful adaptation of the H. G. Wells's novel. And he sets it around 1900, just as Wells intended. Nobody has ever done that on film before. To make sure that he does not omit any important plot points from the novel Hines's version is just a minute or so short of three hours.
To fans of only lavish fantasy filmmaking with completely convincing special effects, this film may be a disappointment. And the film has gotten little positive comment. Fans of the Wells novel, however, will not find a better adaptation to film. I will not outline the plot. The plot of the Wells novel is the plot of the film to several decimal places. The only plot point that I noticed that was lost was that the Martian red weed that dies off, foreshadowing the fate of the invasion. Because the film so closely follows the book, the pacing may be slower than modern audiences might expect. But patience has its rewards.
The film has no familiar actors. The cast is made up of mostly first-timers. Hines has them parody stuffy British stage melodramatics of turn-of-the-century Britain. Their acting style is less that of a 21st century film and more that of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. That is all Hines asks of them. That is quite possibly all Wells would have wanted. Wells wrote his novel to complain about British Imperialism in places like Tasmania and to vent his anger at the indifferent English populace. The Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style acting is sufficient to create the feel of empty people, and Wells would have approved most heartily. The one poor touch in the casting is that all the major actors appear to be at most in their early thirties. Somehow that is not the impression I get from the book.
As with the acting, Hines does not give us all that might be expected in the special effects. As would be true with a marionette show, it is easy to tell we are not looking at reality, but the effects are sufficient to do their part to carry the story. Frequently effects will be botched, and my guess is that it was done intentionally. When a building is burning, flames will be superimposed over the windows, but they will be just enough off-position to remind us that these are effects. The Martian war machines, this time envisioned with a sort of arthropod look, do not have much mobility and look flat and cartoonish.
Perhaps an irritating touch of the film is in its emulation of very early cinema. The visuals frequently jump and jerk as if an old film has been repaired many times and frames are missing. It is an interesting idea, but the effect quickly wears out its welcome. Fortunately we see a lot less of this touch in the second half of the film. The score by Jamie Hall, credited in the IMDB for only one previous film, has some moments, but for the most part is just adequate.
Personally I would have liked the first period adaptation of WAR OF THE WORLDS to have been done well and seriously with believable effects. That would probably have met with more audience approval. Perhaps such a film will eventually be made. This is a film that serves the novel and H. G. Wells's intentions well, without letting the visual effects or even the action steal the show. The film is just a kinetic illustration of the novel. But I am happy to settle for that. I rate this version a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. But I do not expect that there will be many viewers who will like the film as much as I do. I might suggest watching the film with the novel in hand and open. As far as I know this movie is available only on video. [-mrl]
BATMAN BEGINS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: BATMAN BEGINS re-invents Batman for the screen and still has time to comment on the story of a certain other recent blockbuster. Nolan's and Goyler's script is not perfect, but it has many very interesting ideas and touches. The film sports an all-star cast led by Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne--soon to be Batman. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The real hero of BATMAN BEGINS is director Christopher Nolan (of MEMENTO) and story author David Goyler. Together when they wrote the script they were either just lucky or have pulled off an amazing coup, trumping George Lucas. Early in BATMAN BEGINS Bruce Wayne is being trained in a super-powerful fighting order that combats injustice in its own mystical way. But to protect the thing he loves he betrays his teacher and the wise old guru behind his teacher. He goes over to the "other side," where he dons a black power suit to become a powerful frightening legend. In short, the origin of Batman is the origin of Darth Vader, but as seen from the other side. Assuming that was intentional, it was a bold idea and the timing of the release of the film is just about perfect.
The similarities of the two stories actually may be more than coincidence. George Lucas has long since revealed to fans the planned origin of his Darth Vader and even the date we would see that story on the screen. Nolan's and Goyler's clever, audacious script for BATMAN BEGINS apparently plays off of, reverses, and comments upon Lucas's myth. This is just one of the script's interesting accomplishments. Another is to re-envision and revitalize the entire Batman film series.
Confession time: With the exception of reading "The Dark Knight Returns" I have not read a Batman story written since the early 1960s. Friends assure me that the two characters of Ducard and Ra's Al Ghul really do come from the comics even if they are new to the screen. Still, similarity of the stories and the timing of the release of BATMAN BEGINS seems just about too good to be coincidence.
Another nice innovation of this film is how Batman moves. The film exploits the advantage that cinema has over the comic book medium for creating the Batman character. In the real world when I see a bat it is usually just a flash. Bats usually move too fast for the eye to follow. When we see bats in this film they also move too fast for the eye to follow a single bat. Christian Bale's Batman has this same characteristic. Fights seem to be staged so that it is impossible to keep one's eye on Wayne/Batman. When Batman strikes there is frequently little to see. Batman is a nearly unseen presence. He can seemingly be everywhere and nowhere. The viewer just gets glimpses of him, just like a real bat. That effect cannot be done in a comic book where the panels are fixed in time. In the film his speed elevates Batman beyond being just a crime-fighter in a funny suit. Combine his abrupt movement with dark, film-noir photography and the BATMAN BEGINS makes him scary in a way that even the comic version could not. After two serials, a TV series, and at least five feature films, Batman is finally the mysterious force that creator Bob Kane intended him to be. For the first time Batman is more effective in live-action than he could be in the comic. In the genre of graphic superhero adaptations to the screen BATMAN BEGINS is at least a landmark and may be a high-water mark.
The film begins in what is apparently from the credits Bhutan. Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) can already fight like a demon, but he carries a heavy rage from seeing his parents murdered in front of his eyes. He is adopted by a vigilante society called the League of Shadows. His teacher is Ducard, (Liam Neeson) and Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe of THE LAST SAMURAI) oversees his training. Wayne cannot complete his training because he is unwilling to be completely unscrupulous in the name of justice. Instead he returns to his home in Gotham City. In the city fate gives him an arsenal of personal super-weapons and allows him to create his vigilante alter-ego, Batman.
The film has a lot of story to tell, and we are better than an hour into the 141-minute film before we even hear the name Batman. Many aspects of the script are enigmatic or complete nonsense. Batman appears to be in his twenties in what seems like the current day, but he was seven or so when his parents were killed during the Great Depression. And from the Great Depression to the time period of modern weapons Alfred, the faithful butler (Michael Caine), does not appear to age a single day.
The plot is very complex with at least five different villains pulling in different directions. Towards the end of the film the editing is so fast-paced and is shot in such a choppy fashion that the film really becomes incoherent. But there is quite a bit of story in its 141-minute length. Why does it seem so many superheroes get their start from either radiation mutation or mystical Eastern philosophies? Batman in this film takes the latter path, like the Shadow, Chandu the Magician, the Green Lama, and everybody who ever graduated from Shaolin Temple. The script, which might be a little over-packed in spite of its long length, has tips of the hat to such divers sources as H. P. Lovecraft, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT.
The cast of this film is massive. Included in the cast are Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, and Morgan Freeman. It is quite a powerhouse cast. I suppose it says something that Morgan Freeman would even consent to do a comic book adaptation film. One problem with casting Christian Bale as Batman is that in spite of efforts to disguise his voice, when he is wearing the Batman suit it is all to easy to recognize that it is Christian Bale in a Batman suit, though perhaps not as easy as to tell the Christopher Reeve Clark Kent is the same person as the Christopher Reeve Superman.
It is difficult to rate a film with such virtues and which also has such glaring faults. On balance it does enough that is impressive that I would give BATMAN BEGINS an affectionate +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
RIVER OF GODS by Ian McDonald (copyright 2004, Pocket Books, 583pp, ISBN 0-7434-0400-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So the country is being taken over by a virtual soap opera?????
That's what this mess boils down to, and I didn't even realize it until one of the characters thought it to himself--or was it herself? I'm not sure any more
RIVER OF GODS is a slow-moving, complex, tedious, overwrought, slow, padded novel that made me wonder what people thought of it to make it a Hugo nominee (with apologies to Evelyn for swiping her comment from her recent remarks about the short Hugo nominees). Recently in LOCUS, Charlie Brown (I think it was him) said "we need more stories set in India). RIVER OF GODS is the prime example of why we *don't* need a story set in India.
The story basically centers around nine people whose lives will converge over the course of the novel. This means we've basically taken the ensemble cast of any of the "Star Trek"s, for example, and given them all equal and substantial screen time in the story to show the unfolding events as they lead up to the climax. It just can't be done without slowing the story down to a crawl, as well as obscuring the interesting story points with all the irrelevant and unnecessary fluff.
Okay, by now you get the idea that I hated the book.
I didn't hate it because it was set in India, although the attempt to weave multiculturalism into the story certainly didn't help matters any here. I hated it because it took a very interesting premise and bogged it down with so much, uh, "stuff" that it got lost along the way.
Let me try to boil it down into something reasonably simple. The overall, arching point is that aeais (AIs, get it?) are getting out of control, and thus need to be licensed and regulated. However, later generation AIs, er, aeais, are so powerful and intelligent that they cannot be controlled. These are the 3rd Generation aeais, er, AIs. The story centers around the one that is trying to take over, or at least go someplace where it can be left alone along with the rest of the high powered aeais.
The idea is an interesting one, but one that is lost amid all the labyrinthine machinations that go on throughout this novel. The interesting bits are well and tightly written, but when McDonald goes off into overblown character sequences that have little or nothing to do with the plot, the wheels come off.
Nope. Don't get it. Wish I hadn't read it. I could have better spent the commute to work on the train sleeping.
That concludes my survey of the Hugo-nominated novels for this year. Since China Mieville's work has never done anything for me, I will not read that one. So, in the spirit of Evelyn's voting lists, here's mine for the Hugo Novels.
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Prepare to have your mind boggled. It seems almost impossible that any animal could live this way. The mating cycle of the Emperor Penguin of Antarctica involves incredible dedication, courage, and effort. So I am sure did making this documentary. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
If I were to tell you the story of the mating cycle of the Emperor Penguin of Antarctica you probably would not believe me. If you did believe me you probably would want to see it for yourself. And now you can. Explorers had observed and described the mating cycle of the Emperor Penguin of Antarctica and it sounded like an incredible fantasy until it was filmed as MARCH OF THE PENGUINS for National Geographic and for Warner Independent Pictures.
Of course, the mating cycle of the Emperor Penguin is public knowledge, and if I were describe it here it might well increase your desire to see the film. But I will restrain myself because to learn of it for the first time while actually seeing it is a jaw-dropping experience.
The method that these penguins follow to reproduce involves incredible dedication, effort, hardship, and danger. The filming of this documentary must have involved much the same. The narration, by Morgan Freeman, says that the penguins do it for love. I suppose that sounds a little corny to me. But whether the force is love or instinct to reproduce or whatever, the resolve in these penguins must be incredible.
This is a powerful, impressive documentary. It is well filmed with beautiful detailed photography. The penguins are immediately likeable, like plump men waddling like Charlie Chaplin. They trek in long line narrow queues reminiscent of old photographs of gold miners climbing mountains in the Klondike. For a week they never stop, hiking to where the ice is thick and they feel it is safe to mate. When they get tired they flop on their bellies like boys on sleds and push themselves along on hands and feet.
I will compromise and reveal one phase of the process. At one point the males who have not eaten for two months. They now have to stand in cold winds of up to 150 miles per hour. The temperature is 71 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. They can barely move because they have tucked between their legs, balanced on their feet, an egg half as wide as they are. If the egg touches the ground it will freeze, killing the chick inside. If they even put their feet flat on the ground it destroy the egg. So they stand barely moving balanced on their heels in these unimaginably and violent conditions, through horrendous whiteout blizzards, without eating, FOR TWO MORE MONTHS. If any animal can be said to have paid its dues for reproducing, it is the Emperor Penguin.
Late in the film you have seen these animals through the best part of a year and have seen the sacrifices they have endured to create the chicks. To see the chicks dive into the water and swim away is a tremendous note of triumph and relief made all the more poignant because the parents in all probability will never again see the chicks they fought so hard to give life to.
The photography is beautiful and captures the majesty of the Antarctic landscape. But once the story of the penguins starts, it is not where the real interest is. This is a story of a conflict and the viewer really is in there hoping that enough baby penguins survive so that not many of these brave birds are disappointed. They have paid the price for success.
Just seeing MARCH OF THE PENGUINS is a remarkable experience. I rate the film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. I hope to be reminded at Academy Award time what a good film it is and just how engrossing a nature documentary can be. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
[As this is a mammoth edition of the Void, we have appropriate book reviews -mrl]
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF NEW JULES VERNE ADVENTURES edited by Mike Ashley (ISBN 0-7867-1495-6) is twenty-one new stories and two reprints based on the writings or life of Jules Verne. They are arranged chronologically by their connection to Verne's life, though Ashley does find reason to spread out the Captain Nemo stories rather than have them consecutive. (One serious flaw of the book is that there is no chronological bibliography of Verne's works. They are mentioned in the introductions, but there's no way to get the "big picture".) For each reader, the stories that will be most appealing or enjoyable will probably be those which are based on the works familiar to that reader. So for me, stories based on "Maitre Zacharius" or THE CASTLE OF THE CARPATHIANS are harder to appreciate than those centering on THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND or JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I probably should admit that while as a teen I read and re-read THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND until it literally fell apart, my knowledge of most of the other works is more through the movies. (Even for those for which I read the books, I have seen the movies many more times.) As with most Ashley anthologies, there is a good assortment here: some straight sequels, some alternate histories, some works which include other authors' creations as well (to say which ones would be to spoil some of the stories), and some which are a bit of this and a bit of that. Recommended, but obviously more for people familiar with Verne's work.
John Varley's MAMMOTH (ISBN 0-441-01281-7) is an okay science fiction novel, but more in the line of techo-thriller in its very current setting. There is a time machine, but it's a "one-off" with no other new technology cluttering up the background. The Howard Christian character seems very much Bill Gates crossed with the early Howard Hughes, the mammoths provide a connection to "Jurassic Park" and its ilk, and there are also the obligatory sinister government agents. While it's competent enough, one wonders what happened to the Varley who got fifteen Hugo nominations (and three wins) in the late 1970s and early 1980s for such works as TITAN, WIZARD, MILLENIUM, STEEL BEACH, or eleven shorter stories. Alas, I suppose that a more mainstream novel sells better than a visionary science fiction novel, and I note that none of the categories in the cataloging data given on the copyright page are "Science fiction." Instead we have five fiction sub-categories: woolly mammoths, billionaires, cloning, mummies, and Nunavut. Anyone expecting the older, more edgy John Varley will be disappointed. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Radio news is bearable. This is due to the fact that while the news is being broadcast the disc jockey is not allowed to talk. -- Fran Lebowitz
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