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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/19/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 8, Whole Number 1296
Table of Contents
Sweet Heroine in Trouble (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In a recent issue I talked about a book that had a nasty word in the title. The first half of the word was "bull" and the second half was a word for a waste product of the bull. In order to not be filtered out by nanny filters I replaced the "i" in the second word with an asterisk.
Okay, if you are still not sure what the second half of the word was make an acronym of the phrase "sweet heroine in trouble." But what I wrote actually was an acronym of "sweet heroine *n trouble." It was not enough, believe it or not. We had reports of people not getting the VOID because their system protected them from my nasty, nasty language. I do hope this issue goes out and that the phrase " Sweet Heroine in Trouble" and that the nanny filter does not kill this issue. And as a message to whoever installed the nanny filter on AOL, "Friends usually can know you only uncertainly." [-mrl]
How to Analyze Great Literature (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was flying back from the World Science Fiction Convention in Scotland and the transatlantic flight was showing, of all things, THE WIZARD OF OZ. It had been years since I saw it and I decided to watch some of it. It was toward the end of the film and the defrocked Wizard was bestowing his gifts on the major characters. He is such a loveable old man and whatever he says sounds like heartfelt wisdom. He tells the Scarecrow, "A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others." Generations of kids have been brought up on this warm philosophy. I have heard it for years. Finally I am approaching an age of a sizable fraction of the Wizard's age. Do I see things like the Wizard does? Are you kidding me? That is a horrible philosophy. I have known people who have messed up their lives because expected someone to love them but did not bother loving back. Who in history can we see has been greatly loved? A lot of Argentineans loved Eva Peron. She was no prize. A high percentage of the German people loved Hitler. They were even willing to die for him. I certainly would not judge Hitler's heart by how much he was loved.
This whole film (I am talking about the film, not having read the book in many years) is based on pretty tenuous ethical grounds. Dorothy really wants to get home. It may be for the best of reasons but this kid really, really wants to get home. So what must she do? She is told she has to get the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. Someone observes task that would entail killing the witch. She thinks about it and says the equivalent of "well, yeah, okay, sure." Luckily she gets to do a Spiderman and does not actually have to kill her victim. She just sort of brings about the death as an accident. [Letting the villain kill himself in an accident is a Spiderman trick. In the films the villain dies, but Spidey does not do the killing. He just sort of fradiddles the villains so much that they end up killing themselves.]
Also, as Evelyn has pointed out, the real hero of the film is Toto. The dog pulls the fat out of the fire more often than not. It is Toto who shows the real nature of the wizard. But does anyone care at the end of the film that Elvira Gulch still has an order for the dog to be destroyed? Dorothy is home and that is what counts.
My father-in-law's favorite novel is LOST HORIZON. He likes the idea that if you live in peace and tranquility you live a very long time. Maybe it only seems that way. But, if you read the novel, just living in peace in Shangri-La is not enough. Somebody has to bring in things that cannot be found on a high Tibetan mountain. Caravans have to be paid to bring in goods. How do they pay them? If you read the novel--this one I did read--there is gold in them thar hills. There is a rich vein of gold running through Shangri-La. Well, heck, what kind of a message is that? You too can live in peace and contentment if you have the right frame of mind, you are willing to go with the flow, and as it happens you have just a whole bunch of gold to pay for it all. Getting back to comic book heroes, it reminds me of the recent DAREDEVIL film. As I said in my review "In his angst Daredevil asks himself the question 'Can one man make a difference?' And I think the film answers inspirationally with a resounding 'Yes, one man with radioactive mutant super-powers can make a difference.' I think that is a message we all needed in these troubled times." This is news I can use? [Thanks go to Bill Higgins for reminding me periodically of that turn of phrase by quoting it in his signature file.]
My father thought that instead of science fiction I should have been reading good books like he read as a kid. His choice was THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. What is the message of this great novel by Dumas? If you are poor there is little hope for you. The wealthy and the powerful can use you as they will. But . . . but if you have money--I mean a lot of money--then you have power. You have the power to pulverize your foes, to see them flail in your clutches, and to ruin the lives of their families. Money is the power to crush your enemies. And it may even bring you peace and contentment.
I guess I have this talent looking at other people's favorite stories and seeing them with new eyes. Back in ninth grade English we were reading PUDDINHEAD WILSON by Mark Twain. That is the book in which there is a good black man held down by society and by a nasty white man who had been raised with him. [Spoiler alert.] The bad white man gets his comeuppance. But as a final kick it turns out that Wilson can prove the black man and the white man had their identities crossed. The two were accidentally switched at an early age and the skin tones were so similar it was impossible to tell it had happened. I said, on the exam no less, that Twain had given in to the prejudice of his day by having the white man be the good man and the black man is bad. Old Mrs. Wanager took off from the grade saying that she thought I had missed the point. I learned that day the terrible lesson that exams and irony do not mix. [-mrl]
Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (letter of comment by Aaron Leeper):
My cousin Aaron Leeper joins the discussion of lines on the Earth's surface with the following observation:
"Jews all over the world turn toward Jerusalem to pray. The direction from New York toward Jerusalem on a flat map is south-eastward, so local architects in New York routinely design synagogues to have the seating face that direction, more or less. Yet if you fly to Jerusalem from New York, you will head in a north-easterly direction, heading vaguely toward Iceland! The 'Great Circle' route, i.e. the shortest line connecting New York and Jerusalem, is at great variance with the intuitive direction . . . because of the curvature of the globe. The best way I found for quick and dirty determination of the shortest direction between remote cities (as an amateur radio operator who wanted to aim his antenna for reception of far-off continents) was to simply pick up a globe and put a finger from each hand on each of the cities in question and follow the imaginary line connecting the two fingers. Obviously, there's no point in doing this for nearby cities, but for very remote cities the results were quite unexpected at first." [-al]
Actually the shortest path from New York to Jerusalem is over Nova Scotia, the English Channel, and the North of Italy. A standard map with the equator in the middle distorts distances, as any flat map will. A northern polar projection shows the path marginally more accurately. [-mrl]
CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (letter of comment by David Johnson):
In Evelyn's review of CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in the 07/22/05 issue she said, "One change from the book is that Charlie's father is still alive-- maybe Burton thought that far too many children's movies had dead parents." David Johnson wrote to say, "Ummm, no. While the first movie had Charlie's father dead (apparently, so that Wonka could be more of a "father figure" to him in the film--not to mention in the 60s and 70s, it was rare to see any child in a film/TV with both parents), the book has always had him quite alive. He's stated to have a job (at least, for the first couple of chapters--then he's let go and things get thin) at a factory screwing the caps on tubes of toothpaste. He is, however, pretty much a non-entity in the book. Then again, except for Grandpa Joe, all of Charlie's relations are basically just there, with maybe a line or two (with who says that line mostly interchangeable with any of the other family members)." [-dj]
[I must have been thinking of the movie. I would look in the book to see where I was confused, but I can't seem to find it since it hasn't gotten reshelved yet and I have no idea where I put it! -ecl]
THE RUNES OF THE EARTH--THE LAST CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT BOOK ONE by Stephen R. Donaldson (copyright 2004, Putnam, $26.95, ISBN 0-399-15232-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Back a gazillion years or so ago--okay, only about twenty-eight, new writer Stephen R. Donaldson burst onto the fantasy scene with the first Thomas Covenant novel, LORD FOUL'S BANE. I remember my first attempt to read that novel--it failed miserably. I put it aside, something less than half finished (and I suspect even less than that), wondering why I tried. Covenant was whiny, after all, and it didn't seem to be going anywhere. So I let it sit for awhile, and tried again later (how much later I don't know-- that was, after all, twenty-eight years ago). And for some inexplicable reason, not only did I finish it, I was hooked.
There were a total of six Covenant novels across two Chronicles-- the second, oddly enough, is called "The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant". And they flew off the shelves, and were mostly acclaimed by fans and critics as "wonderful things." Oh, there were problems--the writing was way over the top and too heavy handed, Covenant was a whiny SOB, among others, but in general it was very, very successful. The inside front flap even claims that the "Chronicles" helped create the modern fantasy genre. I don't know about that, but I know I liked it a lot.
Just a side note here. Back then, I was writing book reviews for "The Log of the S.S. Voyager", the fanzine of the Purdue University Science Fiction Club. In those days, though, these things were written on paper with a pen or pencil, or maybe typed if I had access to a typewriter. I would have loved to see what I'd written about these books back then.
Anyhow, Donaldson has decided to pick up where he left off and finish the story with "The Last Chronicles". Runes starts ten years after the end of the last book. Linden Avery has adopted an autistic boy. Joan Covenant, Thomas' wife, has gone insane, and is in the care of Linden Avery at the hospital at which she works. Roger Covenant, the son of Thomas and Joan, has come to Linden to plead his case to have her released into his custody. After all, he is an adult now, and can take responsibility for her. The thing is, all he really wants is her white gold wedding ring (oh boy, here we go), and Jeremiah, Joan's autistic son, has just built an extremely accurate Lego model of Revelstone, the Keep of the Lords of the Land, in her apartment.
Yeah, weird stuff is going to happen, don'tcha know.
So, by one means or another, Roger, Joan, and Jeremiah are off to the land, and Linden follows along not far behind. The problem turns out that the land is overcome by caesures, rifts in time, and is plagued by something called Kevin's Dirt (another side note: Kevin? Lord Kevin? Kevin Landwaster? Good grief, I like male Anglo-Saxon names as much as the next guy, but *Kevin* in a fantasy setting?), which blocks earthsense. Oh yeah, the Staff of Law has been lost by Anele, who was in charge of keeping it. He lost it and came through a caesure to the present time. The Bloodguard are now the Masters of the Land, and are keeping the secrets of earthpower away from everyone, for the reason that the use of earthpower will only lead to Corruption.
Anyway, Foul has Jeremiah, and the Staff was lost in the past. What better thing to do than to use a caesure, which only travels forward in time, to go *backward* to get the staff, aided by ur- viles and the Ranyhyn, no less? Linden believes that she needs the Staff to rescue Jeremiah and defeat Foul. And oh yeah, we don't know where Roger and Joan are at this point.
Remember a couple of reviews ago when I said I put a book down to read WAR OF THE WORLDS and then HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE? Yep, it was this thing. It was slow, tedious, and tremendously boring. LORD FOUL'S BANE revisited, as it were. The problem is that Donaldson takes at least a couple of hundred pages just going over what happened in the first six books, reminding the reader by weaving it into the story of our heroine and her companions. Well, while I did need the reminder, I really don't think it needed to drag out quite so long.
But after I finished HALF-BLOOD PRINCE and picked up where I left off, things weren't so boring anymore. Things started to happen, and it moved quicker and got more interesting. Interesting enough that I had a desire to finish it in short order.
Still, this book has its shortcomings. Aside from Linden being overwrought about everything, the writing still goes over the top on occasion. And the story moves more slowly than it needs to. My neighbor says he felt manipulated once he finished it. I didn't feel that way, but I do feel like a good portion of my time could have been better spent reading another book.
However, there are three more to go--yep, it's going to end up being four books. Let's hope they get better as they go along. [-jak]
THIS DIVIDED STATE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Steven's Greenstreet's documentary of the political firestorm created when Michael Moore was invited to speak at Utah Valley State College shortly before the 2004 election. The state is overwhelmingly Republican and Orem City, Utah, was overwhelmingly against allowing Moore to speak. The film covers the fight that followed and gives a disturbing, if repetitive, view of the political polarization of the country. The film criticizes demagogues on both sides of the issues. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Orem City, Utah, calls itself Family City, USA. In a state that is 75% Mormon and 92% Republican, it sees itself as representing Christian and American family values. In September 2004, in spite of this climate, Jim Bassi and Joe Vogel of Utah Valley State College invited liberal filmmaker Michael Moore to come to speak. The speech would be just two weeks before the 2004 election. They could not have expected the size of what happened next. Large factions of the right wing community mobilized to protest and to try to prevent Moore from speaking at UVSC. The organizers had expected some resistance, but were taken by surprise at the vehemence and fury of those opposing Moore's visit. The debate becomes one of an angry argument over the meaning of freedom of speech and the First Amendment of the Constitution.
A great deal of what the film about is the anger and extremity of the right wing views in the community. The fears expressed went to claiming that Moore hated the town and his coming to speak in order to destroy the community and everything that it stands for. Leading the charge and really the central figure of the documentary is Kay Anderson whose arguments are intolerant and unconstitutional. He assumes that that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong and simply does not understand the situation, but adds positively "perhaps someday they will." The conservative activists bring in Sean Hannity, Fox News commentator, to fight their cause. Hannity's approach is to hold a public meeting to discuss the issue in which those who argue for the liberal side are shouted or booed down or called up on the state and put on the spot to represent the entire liberal cause.
The rough-edged narrative spends its first hour on the firestorm before Moore's speech. Stylistically the film is a little irritating. It has it repetitious with Anderson presenting the same views over and over. In addition, the film keeps returning to one participant whose only qualification for the attention seems to be that he has a strong physical resemblance to Michael Moore. In the final half-hour when Moore himself is present in Orem City, the film takes an ironic twist. This speech which so many fought so hard for and against is one of astounding banality and almost totally lacking in substance. He praises the courage of the committee that invited him. He thanks the people in the audience who had served in Iraq and promises that the Democrats will bring the soldiers home. He tells the audience that they have just two more weeks of George Bush as President. Moore's speech is less a discussion of the issues and more a pep talk given in a state where it would be unlikely to do any good. Moore seems totally unable to give a speech worthy of the effort and the fighting that was necessary to bring it about. We see indignant Nader-ites ejected from the auditorium for using some of the same techniques that Moore would use. And as the film wryly points out, Moore endorsed Ralph Nader in 2000. Then Moore leaves UVSC with the brouhaha over his speech still going on. The real heroes of the story are Bassi and Vogel who originally invited Moore, who stood up to the criticism, and who were left with lawsuits against them after Moore had left.
This is a film with many surprising ironies and the agitators on both sides look bad in the end. This film is a sobering look at what the entire political process has become and is becoming. It rate THIS DIVIDED STATE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Isabel Allende's ZORRO (ISBN 0-06-077897-0) continues the tradition of newer authors writing origin stories for characters (often heroes or super-heroes) whose lives were joined in media res by their original creators. So we got, for example, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES to explain that character's background (rather poorly, I'll add). Johnston McCulley made Zorro the son of a hidalgo, but did not say much more. All his later stories were sequels. The movies embellished this background somewhat (and in fact McCulley picked up some ideas from the first movie for his later stories), but Allende has gone in a different direction, emphasizing (some might say inventing) Zorro's Indio roots (his mother here is a mestiza freedom fighter), a more equal relationship between him and Bernardo, and, most interesting, the emergence of the Zorro persona in Spain rather than in California. There's a lot about the efficacy of Indio medicine and other elements than might be labeled as too "politically correct" were it not for the fact that the whole Zorro story of someone defending the Indios from the rapacious Spanish invaders is already pretty politically correct. Much of the story takes place in Napoleanic and post-Napoleanic Spain, so if you're a fan of Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" series, this should fit right in. Certainly an intriguing novel, although you may disagree with the direction in which Allende has taken the character.
THE FINE ART OF MURDER edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and Larry Segriff, with Jon L. Breen (ISBN 0-88184-972-3) is a massive collection of over a hundred articles and lists such as "Why Cozies?", "Does Anybody Love a Researcher?", "Humorous Crime, or Dead Funny", and "Some Notable Religious Mysteries". While some are outdated (a 1993 article on mystery bookstores is almost entirely of only historical interest now), and various others not of great interest to some readers (I, for example, have little interest in true crime or serial killer stories), but with so much ground covered, there is bound to be more than enough for readers with some interest in mysteries.
Barry Malzberg's THE SODOM AND GOMORRAH BUSINESS (ISBN 0-671-77789-0) is perhaps most notable for a single prescient sentence. Malzberg describes the Watts riots after Robert Kennedy's assassination, and then writes, "Then Chicago in the eighties when the Twin Towers toppled, and the Prudential went." (I realize that sounds as though he thinks the Twin Towers were in Chicago, but I'll note that the line is from the point of view of a narrator who has been at best spottily informed about history. Alas, when one thinks about it, a lot of today's students would do equally badly in sorting out events of fifty or sixty years ago.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. -- Voltaire
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