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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/23/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 13, Whole Number 1301
Table of Contents
World of Warcraft Plague (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We have been following with great concern the events happening in the Warcraft World. Apparently a virtual plague has broken out in this already very dangerous place and the fatality count looks like it could be in the thousands. If you have not heard about this you can read about it at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4272418.stm
According to this article the disease has its roots in the blood of the Hakkar, itself a god of Blood. It is spreading a virulent disease throughout the World of Warcraft.
I know this is a bad time to ask this of members, and budgets are stretched because of so many recent disasters, some even non- digital, but I want to see if something can be done for the survivors. If you wire me contributions--digitally--I will see if something can be done to help the resurrected and the survivors of those killed. Subscribers of the MT VOID have generous, warm hearts and I know they will respond in this hour of need. [-mrl]
Your Horoscope (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
(Due to economy concerns we cannot provide complete horoscopes. Your cooperation is appreciated.)
Leo: Your best course of action involves the out-of-doors. Keep trying and there is success in your future.
Everyone else: WHAT? You are going to complain you are not covered with a horoscope? Don't be so superstitious. [-mrl]
Comments on Robert Wise (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
While I was in Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival I heard the news that Robert Wise had died. He was 91 years and four days old. I was very sorry to hear that. Wise is one of the directors I admired a lot, in spite of the fact that there were many in Hollywood who did not like him. But more of that later.
Wise was an interesting director, particularly for fans of the fantasy. He directed a wide variety of films, but I think of Wise first for having directed science fiction and horror stories. His classic of science fiction was THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which frequently shows up on top ten lists for best science fiction films. He also directed THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and the first "Star Trek" film. His horror films included THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and THE BODY SNATCHER for producer Val Lewton. He also directed the first film version of Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING. He won Oscars for both Best Director and Best Picture for two musicals, WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
With the possible exception of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which was made as the Korean War was heating up, these films seem fairly seemed harmless and not very controversial. He worked in such varied genres as Westerns (TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN), drama (I WANT TO LIVE!), war films (RUN SILENT RUN DEEP and THE DESERT RATS), and political dramas (THE SAND PEBBLES).
One would not think of him as one of the more controversial directors of the studio system. In fact, there were and are people in the film industry who hated him with a passion. Some reviewers have a great deal of vitriol for him. For some Wise represents, I suppose, the victory of studio business interests over artistic values. Not that Wise was greatly artistic himself. Why then is he so disliked?
Wise worked with Orson Welles as editor for CITIZEN KANE and reportedly Wise and Welles got along very well for that film. They worked together again on THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS with again Wise as editor and they had a good relationship. But Welles had a very independent work style. The young director showed no respect for the studio people who were paying him. He had had a history of battles with the money interests at RKO studio. The final straw was when Welles went off to Brazil doing preparation work for another film, IT'S ALL TRUE. Reportedly Nelson Rockefeller and the State Department had asked Welles to make a good-will film about Brazil, a documentary to tie the two countries closer together.
Welles headed off for Brazil and started to make a film about daily life in that country, which was not at all what RKO had in mind. They needed him to finish up with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. RKO had decided that with the coming of World War II audience attention span would be shorter and they wanted to work with Welles to make AMBERSONS a little shorter and punchier films. Welles was just not available. Finally RKO decided they had had enough. They were paying Robert Wise and ordered him to complete the editing with a briefer telling and get the film ready to release. Wise reluctantly agreed and did as he was told. Welles was not happy. He did not like the film as it was released and blamed Wise. He considered it a betrayal by a friend and they never worked together again.
Even today there seem to be film critics who are insulting to Wise. In his 2001 book BEYOND POPCORN: A CRITIC'S GUIDE TO LOOKING AT FILMS CRITIC Robert Glatzer describes the incident as, "Welles left for South America and the studio had the hack Robert Wise re-shoot and re-cut the ending." It is hard for me to think of the director of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, WEST SIDE STORY, and THE HAUNTING as a hack. Elsewhere in the same book Glatzer really tears into THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It may not be my favorite film, but it undeniably shows Wise's craftsmanship.
I think people in the science fiction community have more respect for Wise than the public at large. Multiple times at science fiction conventions I saw him on panels talking about his films, particularly THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. It may be only legend but apparently on one such panel he was asked about the Christ symbolism in the film. He professed to not know of any while the writer said that of course the script with full of Christ symbolism.
People who like good science fiction will certainly miss Robert Wise. [-mrl]
Forbidden Power (letter of comment by Chris Ward):
In response to Mark's article on forbidden power in the 08/26/05 issue, Chris Ward writes, "It has been a long time since I have read Frankenstein, but as I recall a big underlying theme of the novel was not just the 'sin of knowledge', but it was the somewhat good (and somewhat bad) Doctor's abandonment of his 'son', bastard or not. And the man/monster also had the habit of asking Dr. F. 'who is going to take responsibility for me', which I think James Whale understood and was alluded to in the (again, a long time since I have seen it) Dan Curtis/Jack Palance version and the Mel Brooks version.
Mark responds, "The book is also about what I would almost call 'bad parenting.' I think Mary Shelley had some bad parenting of her own and that was an issue on her mind. It is certainly there in the book. Victor just sort of walks out on his creation expecting him to die, not unlike babies exposed on a mountain side in ancient Greece. Only this baby did not die. It has been a long time since I have seen the Dan Curtis version. I do sort of see it Brooks, but the baby is not abandoned in the Whale version. He is to be murdered and does the murdering first."
Chris continues, "In a big way, taking the step of acquiring knowledge without being prepared to deal with the results was a big part of it. And it raised the non-Disney issue of abandonment of a creature who is not particularly desirable (although in the book, he may have started out as good looking).
Mark responds, "He may have, but the wording makes it unlikely. He is called a monster from the very first:
'I beheld the wretch -- the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.'
However one thing that people do not seem to realize is that this is not really a science fiction story. The monster may or may not have been created with science. Shelley tells us what Victor had studied including science and natural philosophy [alchemy]. The monster could be a large homunculus for all we are told. It is the films that made it an explicitly scientific creation."
Chris closes with, "Thus if someone in power in Hollywood were to read the novel, they might still get points today for originality."
And Mark notes, "Well, there is one accurate film version, TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (a.k.a. VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN). It is a little slow and dull, but very faithful to the book."
Stem Cell Research (letter of comment by Jerry Williams):
Gerry Williams responds to Mark's article, addressing stem cell research in particular, saying:
[Of the Tree of Knowledge] "Perhaps it's a literal tree, but it does impart knowledge that Adam and Eve were not meant to have. It was due to eating from the Tree that they knew they were naked and got the idea to put on fig leaves. My interpretation was that the knowledge gained by eating from the tree made them unfit for the Garden of Eden. The first "forbidden knowledge" was probably when they realized that they could do something other than God's will, even before they took the first bite.
I also doubt that scientific facts would be forbidden, although the realm of knowledge is wider than that, including answers to questions such as "I wonder what it would be like to . . . ." And there should be limits on how science is performed. Torturous experiments on healthy people may advance medicine faster, but they're still evil and wrong.
The issue [over stem cells] isn't so black and white. It's really a question of where you draw the line. Certainly you're not going to start dissecting pregnant women and their healthy fetuses at various stages of development just to see what you could learn (which at least one large drug company that I can think of might have done sixty-five years ago).
In fact, the knowledge that we really need is how to convert ordinary cells into stem cells. Once we know how to do that, there's no longer a debate. I don't know what percentage of fetal stem cell researchers are working on this, but it's not all of them.
Think about it. Except for identical twins, fetal stem cells have the wrong DNA sequences. So we may learn something from this research, but we are not developing treatments, at least not until we figure out how to convert cells into stem cells. And if we were developing treatments, then the existing stem cell lines would already be sufficient.
There is another form of stem cell research that can produce treatments right away--this involves using stem cells found in the placenta and umbilical cord. Nobody is preventing any research in this area, but medical researchers think the big breakthrough will be in the fetal type of stem cells. They may be right, but it won't help us if we can only get them from fetuses.
I've heard some stem cell researchers claim that they need to be able to do "unrestricted" research to maximize their chance for a breakthrough. That argument doesn't fly. The fact that any of them can make such a statement makes it obvious that a line does need to be drawn. Perhaps it was drawn at the wrong point, but that's a different argument to make. On the other hand, perhaps the current line will force these researchers into the type of research that we really need in the first place.
Frankly, I can think of some reasonable arguments as to why certain types of fetuses need to be created (e.g., identical twins). However, I really haven't heard researchers making these arguments, so I have a hard time getting jazzed up about this particular limitation. [-gsw]
TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is another joyously morbid fairy tale from Tim Burton. A nebbish makes a fatal mistake and accidentally weds a zombie. These mixed marriages--one living and one dead--never really last. But while this one does our hapless hero gets to meet the underworld society of the dead. The mock morbidity is a lot of fun, and it all comes to a heartwarming ending. The animation is not cutting edge, but it is very good. There are a host of familiar voices as a great cast of actors speaks the roles. The film is enchantingly unwholesome. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE is a new Tim Burton animated film in the mold of "Vincent" and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Once again some of the most lovable people are the ones that traditionally give us nightmares. Like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey before him, Burton knows how to poke a loving jab at things we are supposed to find horrifying. In actual fact, they probably have not been horrifying since Victorian times.
Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp, perhaps named Victor for Victor Frankenstein) is in love with patrician Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). Both sets of parents are very anxious to see the marriage take place. The Van Dorts want to climb the social ladder. Normally people like the Everglots would not want to be seen hobnobbing with people like the Van Dorts. But the Van Dorts have money and the snobbish Finnis Everglot (Albert Finney) wants to tap their resources and is even willing to marry his daughter off to them. Willing, that is, if only Victor can get his marriage vows correct. The stern Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee) is losing all patience with Victor and his bad memory. He sends Victor away to practice what he is to say during the marriage ceremony. Victor now can get the words right, but now he is saying them in the wrong place. He is saying them just over the place where a poor and maltreated young woman had died and was buried. Before Victor realizes what he has done he has said his marriage vows to a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter). And this is all she needs to return to life, or at least walking death. The dead woman is delighted to find someone would marry her, considering her delicate condition of being dead. Victor is now married and it is time to meet the non- surviving members of his wife's family and others from the land of the dead. And of course there is a loveable dog only slightly less loveable for being only a dog skeleton.
Tim Burton likes to deal with the same people from one film to the next so the actors doing the voices are people like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter who are veterans of previous Burton films. Danny Elfman (who else) nicely provides the music. The songs are pleasant, but it is too early to tell if the music will be as memorable as that of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. In at least one way this film does not live up to that predecessor. In that film it seemed that there was often interesting creative action in every part of the screen. There were throwaway gags and gimmicks happening all over the background. This film perhaps does not have all the creativity that that film had. There is less going on in each frame. Possibly it is less distracting to have less peripheral action, but it is also a little disappointing. Many of the gags seem less original and more retreads from cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s. But the story has its heart in the right place.
This is a tale of love and death, though ultimately much more about love. Parents may want to avoid bringing children much less than eight or ten, but anybody else should have a great time. The biggest fault is that the pleasure lasts only 78 minutes. I would rate TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
A SOUND OF THUNDER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Based on a famous story by Ray Bradbury, this film will be a real disappointment for its lack of logic and even the misunderstanding of the original story. As an action film without the logic it is only fair. Peter Hyams is good at making sci-fi, but is not very good with science fiction. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
A science fiction film about a new and original idea can be quite good. But when a film is based on a very popular or classic science fiction story, watch out. It is very hard to adapt a classic story without disappointing the fans who made the story popular. A typical example (okay, my best) is the film NIGHTFALL based on the classic Isaac Asimov story. The film is terrible. THE COLD EQUATIONS and DUNE are other good examples of films simply not meeting the expectations of the fans.
The story of THE SOUND OF THUINDER, as any science fiction fan worth his salt will already know, involves a future when time travel has become commercial but is heavily regulated. Why is it regulated? Any change to the past affects the future in ways that cannot be predicted. Hunters are allowed to go into the past to shoot dinosaurs as big game, but they can kill only dinosaurs that are fated to die in the next few seconds anyway. A special pathway keeps the time travelers off the ground so not even a plant is damaged. In the story, of course, the precautions prove insufficient and the future is subtly altered.
A team of three writers, not counting Ray Bradbury, has written a full-length film on this premise and Peter Hyams has directed that script. Though the logic of the original story is a long way from being airtight, the film's logic is far more specious. Different hunting parties come to the same dinosaur and the same interval of time, yet do not seem to run into each other. Using the same set and the same dinosaur makes great budgetary logic but little logic logic. Apparently they are coming back to different layers of the past, but then later in the film a character goes back in time and meets members from another group. So the concept is inconsistent.
In the film an altered past does not simply alter the future. The changes hit the future in tidal waves that come hours apart and each brings major changes to the future. Further the waves affect things at higher and higher "levels" and humans are at the top level. So humans will not be eliminated until the sixth wave. Until then they will see the world change from the first five waves of temporal change. This balderdash makes no sense at all and seems a very anthropocentric view of the universe. This turns a story that may have had a problem or two into a feature- length absurdity.
Politically correct plot lines pad the short story into a longer length--and in this film the original story is only the jumping off point for the plot of the scientists trying to correct the waves of temporal errors. Part of the padding is to create a nefarious villain--white, male, old, and greedy--and the unrewarded genius who gave him his power--female, sexy, and young. One of the team sacrifices his life. Want to guess what race he is? For a science fiction script there is a distinct lack of imagination and much of the film simply covers tired material.
Visually some of the future is nice to look at. Sid Mead who is best known for his futurist contributions to BLADERUNNER has a nice visualization of the future. Cars really look different. However some of his scenery just looks like rear-projection rather than really a location the characters inhabit. When the dinosaur walks the ground really shakes. It is not at all clear a dinosaur even this size could shake the ground so much. An alternate history creature created for the film is an unlikely cross between animals of two different orders. Ben Kingsley does a nice turn as an evil industrialist in an industry that has not been invented yet. But Edward Burns is not the stuff of heroes.
The short story that this film is based on can be recommended, but spending ten dollars to see this adaptation cannot. A SOUND OF THUNDER rates 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. [-mrl]
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film that starts slowly, moves into comedy, and then serious drama. An American Jew travels to Ukraine to find information about members of his family. Forgotten secrets of past are unearthed. This is a film with a wide range of emotions. It is a film with some laughter and some very affecting moments. It may be a flawed film, but parts are really excellent. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Liev Schreiber is a talented and intelligent actor. Here he turns to writing and directing a film based on the popular novel EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer. By an odd coincidence, the main character of this film is also named Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer (played by Elijah Wood) is a man who is surrounded by a force field that seems to deaden all emotion. He observes the world dispassionately from behind a pair of Coke- bottle-lens glasses. His every experience is remembered by taking a souvenir, placing it in a plastic Ziploc bag and putting it on a complex wall that represents for him his life. There every aspect of his life can be studied like a bug under a magnifying glass. One thing seems to defy his analysis. It is a photograph of his family from the Old Country. Perhaps to understand this one specimen he will have to go to Ukraine and investigate the town where his grandfather lived.
It is in Ukraine that he meets the Heritage Odessa Tours Company, basically a one family business that specializes in driving rich Jews to Jewish heritage sites. Though they do not think much of Jews, they are happy to make a nice comfortable living off of them. The Dad will be unable to drive Foer around. Instead he sends his blind father as a driver and his twenty-ish son Alex Perchov (Eugene Hutz) as a guide. How can the grandfather be blind and still see well enough to drive? It seems like one more strange and silly facet of Ukraine society. By the end of the film it will, in fact, be an important question. Can one truly believe what one knows to be false? What is the effect of convincing oneself to live a lie?
Also along for the ride is their nasty, growling dog Sammy Davis, Jr. Jr. To make her official the dog wears a shirt that explains that she is the "Officious Seeing Eye Bitch." Clearly the delicate nuances of the English language are something of a mystery in Ukraine. But then Ukraine is also a mystery to Foer. Much of the film is a road trip trying to find the long lost town of Trachimbrod. During the trip Foer tries to understand Alex and his society, Alex tries to figure out Foer. The two will have to learn about each other and each will understand the history of the region better. Both are very much in the dark, but by the end of their travels everything is illuminated.
The film is shot with subdued color to subdue the mood of the piece. The score is in large part klezmer that provides a perfect backdrop for the almost surreal and quietly madcap journey into the heartland of Ukraine and also into the past. Though the film gets off to a slow start the characters and the humor really draws the audience in. People in my group were repeating lines from the film and laughing at them for days after, so we must have really liked it. By the end of the film festival we were singing "Start Wearing Purple" and "Officious Seeing Eye Bitch" had become the mascot of festival.
Rumor has it that the novel the film is based on is much more complex and fulfilling than the film. That is what novels are. As films go, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED tells a pretty good story all by itself. I rate EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. [-mrl]
THE CONSTANT GARDENER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A minor diplomat investigates the murder of his wife and gets an education on what is really happening in modern Africa. THE CONSTANT GARDENER packs a real wallop in its study of the interconnections of global business, international medicine, and government. A film that has solid and relevant content, a good romance, and is still a good story is very rare. This is one of the best of this year. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
John Le Carre is probably best known for his Cold War thrillers. At least he once was. With the Cold War over there was some question if he could still have subject matter for riveting thrillers. THE CONSTANT GARDENER is, in fact, a very good story set in the modern world. The film that director Fernando Meirelles (who previously directed CITY OF GOD) has made from the novel is exciting and educational. He tells his story set against a backdrop of not only his usual international politics but also global business and international medicine. The three have interests interwoven together and the story takes us to such diverse locations as London, Kenya, Italy, and Sudan.
Justin Quayle (played Ralph Fiennes) has just lost his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). Quayle is a minor British diplomat and she is a political activist. They met when she heckled one of his speeches and they fell in love in spite of representing opposite ends of the political spectrum. When she died she was off with a black activist, Arnold (Hubert Kounde) on some political mission Quayle did not know about. She was murdered, perhaps by Arnold. Evidence shows that she and Arnold may even have been clandestine lovers. Justin just wants to understand what happened and who was it who killed his wife. Had she been using him and his political position? The more answers he finds, the bigger the remaining questions get. The mystery includes drug cartels and their experiments to test new drugs. What Quayle finds is both realistic and chilling. The story has action, but it also is intelligent from first to last. One always feels that Le Carre knows the political and economic situation and the film is every bit as informative as a Tom Clancy story.
The writing of the script is crisp and keen and suspenseful. Characters are complex and frequently take a while to understand as they are developed. In fact much of the thrust of the plot is just to understand the real motivations of some of the characters. In a world as shady as the cold war, characters are not what they seem.
THE CONSTANT GARDENER also offers some beautiful photography of Africa by Cesar Charlone. The score by Alberto Iglesias includes some nice native song. It may be the best story of political intrigue we have seen on the screen in quite a while. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. [-mrl]
JOE DIMAGGIO: THE HERO'S LIFE by Richard Ben Cramer (copyright 2000, Touchstone, $16.00, 548pp, ISBN 0-684-86547-5) (book review and future directions by Joe Karpierz):
I'd been wanting a change in my reading material from my traditional SF fare, so I fell back on my other favorite subject --baseball. The book in question was Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ben Cramer's biography of the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. I've had this book on my shelf for awhile, so I was eager to get to it.
I knew very few details about DiMaggio and his life before I read this book--he was a Yankee, of course, he had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, he's in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was married to Marilyn Monroe, and he appeared in Mr. Coffee ads years ago. What I didn't know was that he was a self-centered money grubbing control freak that associated with unsavory characters, including the mob, throughout his entire life. Maybe many people did, but I certainly didn't, and as a result once again I was reminded that baseball players are human beings just like the rest of us that are subject to and give in to all sorts of demons and temptations. I had a similar revelation thirty years ago when I read Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR, after which I never looked at Major League ballplayers the same way again.
Cramer gives a highly detailed account of the life of DiMaggio, starting with his teen years and going all the way to his death. In fact, if anything, there is way too much detail. Cramer seeks to provide motivation for DiMaggio's life actions by delving into and revealing to the reader all the facets of society that were an influence on the Clipper, including the life of his parents, his interactions with the mob, and his dealings with Hollywood through his brief association with Marilyn Monroe. The book is divided into several sections dealing with different times in Joe's life--in fact, if the reader is looking for nothing more than the account of Joe's career with the Yankees, he will be disappointed. That portion of the story is certainly accounted for, but it only makes up a small portion of this tome.
We learn how Joe's Italian heritage and family life shaped his later dealings with everyone; we learn how Joe stole the hearts of New Yorkers while at the same time keeping his distance from his teammates during his amazing career with the Bronx Bombers; we learn of his brief fling with Monroe, a fling that burned so brightly but quickly--but we also learn of the physical and mental torment he imparted onto her; and we learn about the later part of his life, when he was a bitter, greedy old man led astray by a sleazy lawyer that took control of Joe's memorabilia business for the sole purpose of making as much money off of Joe as he could.
This is a tremendously detailed book--Cramer evidently did his homework, and that was made more amazing by the fact that he did it without DiMaggio's cooperation. The only faults I found were that 1) there were times it seemed like I was reading someone else's biography - the section concerning Marilyn Monroe was more Monroe than DiMaggio; 2) the book dragged in spots--while the attention to detail concerning those surrounding Joe in an effort to explain Joe's behavior was terrific, I think it went overboard, and 3) the book was a tad too long.
I did feel sorry for Joe at the end--he was alone, old, sick, and being taken advantage of. Other than that, I couldn't find anything to recommend him as a human being, really.
However, it was a terrific book. I highly recommend it.
Book Reviewer of Dune
Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert are in the process of wrapping up their long treatment of the Dune Universe. They just released THE ROAD TO DUNE, which I will review next time, and then they will be releasing the final two novels in the Dune SAGA, completing Frank Herbert's story left hanging at the end of CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE. Regular readers of my attempts at book reviews know that I've been following Anderson and Herbert's treatment of the "Dune" universe since they picked up the torch years ago, and I've been eagerly awaiting the end of it all. But it occurred to me a while back that it's been more than twenty years since I'd read *any* of Frank's original Dune books.
After THE ROAD TO DUNE and OLYMPOS by Dan Simmons, I will be rereading and, in some cases, re-reviewing all six of the original "Dune" novels. I won't do them all in a row--I'll go buggy (some might say Dune buggy, but I digress). I'll probably alternate Dune and non-Dune books until I'm done or until it becomes obvious that I need to read them consecutively to finish them all before the next novel comes out.
Wish me luck cleaning the sand out of my keyboard. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Lev Grossman's CODEX (ISBN 0-15-101066-8) sounded very promising, a book described as similar to THE NAME OF THE ROSE or THE CLUB DUMAS. The story is that of Edward Wozny, an investment banker who somehow gets chosen to catalog a library of old books and search for a volume that may be there--or it may not even exist. And the book (the codex of the title) being sought may be a puzzle with hidden meaning. For the first three-quarters or so, this works very well, but then, at the end, Grossman fails to wrap up the story. I don't mean that he doesn't write an ending- -I mean that I can't figure out from what he wrote what happened. (And it's not just me--quite a few amazon.com reviewers expressed the same confusion.) There's also a parallel plot having to do with a computer game which does not really add very much, but probably makes this book fantasy rather than realism.
Norton seems to be coming out with a lot of annotated classics lately, and THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain, with annotations by Michael Patrick Hearn (ISBN 0-393-02039-8) is the first of a batch I will be reading. There are three aspects to comment on in annotated works: the original work itself, the quality of the annotations, and the lay-out. Of Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, little needs to be said; it is a classic, considered by many to be *the* great American novel. The annotations are both explanatory (e.g., telling you the definition of obscure words), and critical (e.g., telling what changes were made on the original manuscript). There are also some that provide opinions, such as on how Twain uses parallels between characters to make a point, or how ideas that appear here appear in other places in his work. I would have preferred more of the last and less of the first, since after reading these definitional annotations, I usually end up saying, "Well, that was obvious." (For example, I know that a hollow is a small valley, and I guess I figure anyone reading an annotated HUCKLEBERRY FINN that sells for $40 is not a high school student who will have problems with the vocabulary.) But my real complaint is with the lay-out.
I'll start by pointing out that "annotated" works almost always have the original text in a column that is about three-quarters of a page width wide, and then the annotations in a narrow column on the outer side of the page. This is in contrast to footnotes, which were originally at the bottoms of pages, but now often get put at the end of the chapter, or even at the end of the entire book.
The rule about the placement of footnotes is fairly clear: one puts the footnotes on the same page as the item being footnoted. If something at the very end of a page generates a footnote that won't fit, one can extend the footnote to the next page, but at that point it takes priority over the original text. In general annotations work similarly, and so one may see a page with a lot of annotations having a lot of white space in the text area, or a page with few annotations with a lot of space in the annotation area. Here, the publisher has decided not to waste any space, so one finds the annotation to something on page 27 may be on page 30. (I don't think any annotations actually occur before the text they are annotating, however.) This means flipping back and forth a lot, which is annoying.
Okay, no one is going to make his decision on this book based on the lay-out of the annotations. But I guess I'm hoping that some publisher will read this and do any annotated books they publish differently. As for this, the annotations do add a lot to the work. As with most DVD commentaries, though, they do not seem to be the sort that one would re-read. (One example of annotations that are worth re-reading, or reading for their own sake, are William Baring-Gould's annotations for Sherlock Holmes.) Twain aficionados may want to buy this, but others should ask their libraries to buy it instead. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. -- Woody Allen
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