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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/03/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 36, Whole Number 1324
Table of Contents
Jingles (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was telling Evelyn that I thought her writing would be remembered after her. And I would be her humble Boswell. She sort of strutted a little but said I could not be her Boswell. Boswell was a biographer. Just writing about Evelyn was not sufficient. I would have to wrtie a biography if I wanted to be her Boswell. Okay, I would have to settle to be her Tonto. Well, maybe not even that. I think that I would be her Jingles. (If you don't get the joke you may not have grown up in the 1950s.) [-mrl]
A Master of Horror and Science Fiction (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I claimed recently that I do not have favorite authors. I have favorite books, but no author do I pick out as one I particularly like. That may not be strictly true. I suppose I do have a special respect for John Steinbeck and one other author. This may be someone that most readers here will have heard of, but few would pick him out. Richard Matheson is one of the few authors whom I really like. I will get back to him shortly.
It looks like ABC television is going to be broadcasting a new anthology series called "The Masters of Science Fiction." You can read about it at http://www.thefutoncritic.com/cgi/pr.cgi?id=20060223abc01. It will be adapting stories of some of the most respected names in science fiction, or at least people who were respected at one time. Names mentioned include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Heinlein. Some of the best science fiction on television has come from these and other real science fiction authors writing for television. Adaptations of these people's stories by other scriptwriters have been a spotty track record. Certainly there have been a lot a bad movies made from classic stories like Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" and Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall".
The same production companies also made the recent cable offering "The Masters of Horror". They is IDT Entertainment and Industry Entertainment. I have seen one episode of that series and was not very impressed. But in spite of the parallel names for the two series, they have a somewhat different approach. The horror series took the acknowledged successful horror filmmakers and did original stories. By "successful" I mean financially successful. I would not say their films are necessarily artistic successes. In fact, most of the best horror directors are probably from Japan these days. Even the best director working in the United States would be Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro who did his best work in his native country.
"The Masters of Science Fiction" will not be using acknowledged master directors or producers of science fiction. Indeed, it is not clear there currently is anybody who would fit that title. George Pal would have qualified in his day. Robert Wise would deserve that title, though science fiction was just an occasional genre for his work. Terence Fisher in Britain did some decent science fiction films, though he did more in the field of horror. These people are all dead, unfortunately. There are no obvious living science fiction directors or producers that come to mind who have a name for good work in science fiction films. That is somewhat surprising given the number of big-budget science fiction films that are made. If one includes comic-book superhero films a science fiction there are a lot more. So unlike the horror series, the science fiction series is concentrating on science fiction writers rather than science fiction directors.
One wonders what IDT would have done if for their earlier series they *did* want to showcase the great American horror writers. The problem is that Stephen King seems to rule the roost here. (Indeed, TBS is doing a series this summer of films based on Stephen King's short stories.) There are a few other popular writers. Ones that I tend to like when I want to read a horror novel--a rare occurrence--would be Dean R. Koontz or Robert McCammon. Sometimes I will go back and read an A. E. Merritt or a Richard Matheson. But these names are little known and obscured by King.
That brings me to the real subject of this article, the writer Richard Matheson. In my opinion he is the greatest neglected writer of horror and science fiction. I have always had that opinion, but recently hearing a reading, courtesy of the BBC, of his I AM LEGEND has just reinforced it. Just as Dracula is probably the great British horror novel, I consider I AM LEGEND to be the great American horror novel. Its point was to reverse the situation of Dracula. It deals not with one vampire in a world of humans but with one human in a world of vampires. It has been adapted twice into films (well, one-and-a-half times). It was adapted into the Italian film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH with Vincent Price. That was shortly followed by a semi-adaptation with Charlton Heston called THE OMEGA MAN. The book and the Italian adaptation strongly influenced George Romero when he made THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Matheson did not like the Price version and had his name taken off, preferring to use his "not- my-best-work" penname Logan Swanson. Nevertheless, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH remains the best adaptation of this very chilling horror novel.
Part of the premise of I AM LEGEND is that vampires are not supernatural but preternatural. That is they are real and as understandable as wolves. They are the products of disease rather than the Devil. That has become a standard idea and discussions of blood type of vampire, etc. show up in many horror stories. I know of only one use of the idea of preternatural vampires prior to Matheson's use is in Edward T. Lowe, Jr.'s script for THE HOUSE OF DRACULA. And there (as in later uses like the BLADE films) it seems to be a preternatural explanation combined with a supernatural one, which seems a little contrived.
However, to limit the praise of Matheson to just one novel would be absurd. This is one man who wrote THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, several scripts for the original "The Twilight Zone", the scripts for Roger Corman's Poe films, and the script for one of Hammer Films' best films, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (a.k.a. THE DEVIL'S BRIDE). He wrote the script for THE NIGHT STALKER. He wrote novels that were the sources of the films SOMEWHERE IN TIME, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, and A STIR OF ECHOES. As I write this I see he did do a script for the above-mentioned "Masters of Horror". Now I see that there is another film production of I AM LEGEND (good, good!). That is rumored to star Arnold Schwarzenegger (bad, bad!)
But if your want to read a real Master of Science Fiction and a Master of Horror, dig up a copy of the novel I AM LEGEND or read other stories by Matheson
More information on Richard Matheson and his phenomenal career can be found at:
2005 Final Nebula Ballot:
The Nebula Award nominations have been announced this week. This is what is nominated.
Novels AIR, Geoff Ryman (St. Martin's Press, Sep04) CAMOUFLAGE, Joe Haldeman (Analog, Mar-May 04; Ace Aug04) GOING POSTAL, Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, Oct04) JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, Sep04) POLARIS, Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov04) ORPHANS OF CHAOS, John C. Wright (Tor, Nov05) Novellas "Clay's Pride", Bud Sparhawk (Analog, Jul/Aug04) "Identity Theft", Robert J. Sawyer (DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS, Mike Resnick, Ed., Science Fiction Book Club, May05) "Left of the Dial", Paul Witcover (SCI FICTION, Sep04) "Magic for Beginners", Kelly Link (MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS, Small Beer Press, Jul05; also F&SF, Sep05) "The Tribes of Bela", Albert Cowdrey (F&SF, Aug04) Novelettes "The Faery Handbag", Kelly Link (THE FAERY REEL: TALES FROM THE TWILIGHT REALM, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking Press, Aug04) "Flat Diane", Daniel Abraham (F&SF, Oct/Nov04) "Men are Trouble", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's, Jun04) "Nirvana High", Eileen Gunn and Leslie What (STABLE STRATEGIES AND OTHERS, Tachyon Press, Sep04) "The People of Sand and Slag", Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF, Feb04) Short Stories "Born-Again", K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May05) "The End of the World as We Know It", Dale Bailey (F&SF, Oct/Nov04) "I Live With You", Carol Emshwiller (F&SF, Mar05) "My Mother, Dancing", Nancy Kress (Asimov's, Jun04) "Singing My Sister Down", Margo Lanagan, (BLACK JUICE, Eos, Mar05) "Still Life With Boobs, Anne Harris (TALEBONES, Summer05) "There's a Hole in the City, Richard Bowes (SCI FICTION, Jun05) Scripts Act of Contrition/You Can't Go Home Again, Carla Robinson; Bradley Thompson; and David Weddle. (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA; Jan. 28, '05 / Feb. 4, '05 [two part episode]) SERENITY, Joss Whedon (Universal Pictures, Sep05) Andre Norton Award THE AMETHYST ROAD, Louise Spiegler, (Clarion Books, Sep05) SIBERIA, Ann Halam (Wendy Lamb Books, Jun05) STORMWITCH, Susan Vaught (Bloomsbury, Jan05) VALIANT: A MODERN TALE OF FAERIE, Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, Jun05)
Most of our readers do not get a vote, but the choices are always of interest. Reminder to those who are members of either Interaction or LACon IV: the deadline for nominating the Hugo Awards is March 11. [-mrl]
Stephen King (letter of comment by Gerald W. Ryan):
Regarding Evelyn's comments on "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" in the 02/25/06 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan wrote:
"Evelyn: I am pretty sure that "Apt Pupil" was made from yet another of the King stories in DIFFERENT SEASONS. I am not a Stephen King fan at all, but I loved the stories in DIFFERENT SEASONS. I found that I liked "FIRESTARTER" but could not get through any of the other stuff (CHRISTINE, CUJO, PET SEMETARY, etc., etc)." [-gwr]
[Yes, "Apt Pupil" was made into a movie, but it was not as highly thought of as the other two (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and STAND BY ME). -ecl]
"I think THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is one of the best films I've ever seen. I knew how it was going to end, and I was still surprised. . . . The addition of the hangin' rope loaned to Andy probably added some drama for me, I guess. I still believe that Morgan Freeman's Oscar for his work in MILLION DOLLAR BABY was really for his work in SHAWSHANK :-)" [-gwr]
GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE by Frank Herbert (copyright 1981, Putnam, $12.95, 411pp, ISBN 0-399-12593-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
The fellow who would eventually end up being the Best Man at my wedding was a huge "Dune" fan, and we would have long discussions about the novels back in the early and mid-1980s. We even came up with alternate names for each one. GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE was "God-awful of Dune." As I picked up the book for what I believe is the first time since I read the book when it was originally released twenty-five years ago, I wondered if I would still have that opinion of it. After all, as I have been noting in my earlier reviews of books in the "Dune" series, I'm coming at these things from a much different perspective than I did back all those years ago, and age and wisdom (well, maybe that) might cause me to look at the book differently than I did back when I was in my early 20s.
Well, to be fair, I don't think the book is "God-awful", but I do think it's the weakest of the first four. That much has not changed in the intervening twenty-five years.
The time is 3500 years after the events of CHILDREN OF DUNE. Leto II, one of those children, continues to undergo the transition from human to giant sandworm of Dune. Arrakis is nearly desert-free--only a small portion of the planet has a desert now, where Leto is able to roam as would a sandworm. Leto is also Emperor of the known universe. He is the caretaker of the Golden Path, which humanity must follow if it is to survive. Leto has taken over the Bene Gesserit breeding program, this time breeding his Atreides descendants with a purpose in mind--in part to perpetuate the Golden Path, but also to breed an Atreides that cannot "be seen" by an Oracle like him, which leads to his downfall. Leto is seen as a Tyrant, one who is stifling his subjects. Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't--but he believes that what he is doing is the best for humanity.
We have the usual players--the Bene Gesserit, the Tleilaxu, the Ixians; we have Leto's descendants, Moneo Atreides, Leto's majordomo, and Siona Atreides, Moneo's daughter and a current member of the rebellion. We also continue to have Duncan Idaho gholas, which leads to very convoluted relationships indeed. And we have Leto's all-female army, the Fish Speakers--a name which I find just too silly for words.
Nothing really happens in this book. Oh, there are a couple of major events, but for the most part we spend the book reading dialogues between Leto and one of the other characters, wherein Leto is spouting all sorts of religious, philosophical or political doo-dah that is either brilliant beyond words or utterly inane beyond belief. What this book does do is set up the events of HERETICS OF DUNE and CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE.
GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE is just not a very good book at all, in my opinion. I may never read it again. [-jak]
[Joe's reviews of previous "Dune" books have appeared in the following issues:
10/13/00: DUNE--HOUSE ATREIDES
12/14/01: DUNE--HOUSE HARKONNEN
05/02/03: DUNE--HOUSE CORRINO
10/24/03: DUNE--THE BUTLERIAN JIHAD
08/06/04: DREAMER OF DUNE (biography of Frank Herbert)
09/24/04: DUNE--THE MACHINE CRUSADE
10/15/04: DUNE--THE BATTLE OF CORRIN
09/30/05: THE ROAD TO DUNE (collection)
12/30/05: DUNE MESSIAH
02/03/06: CHILDREN OF DUNE
THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: When a Mexican illegal alien is killed, his employer and friend Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones, who also directs) is unsatisfied that the authorities are going to do anything. Perkins finds the killer is a trigger-happy new border patrolman and decides that some justice will be done. Perkins forces the patrolman to execute the dead man's final wish. This is a modest, low-budget, and low-key film but Jones shows a sure hand and real directing power with handling his actors. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Once it gets going, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is a sort of road film over territory where there are no roads. A trigger-happy border patrolman Mike Norton (played by Barry Pepper) accidentally kills a Mexican illegal immigrant. Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a friend of the dead man conducts his own investigation and finds the killer was Norton. He kidnaps Norton and takes him at gunpoint on a journey to Estrada's village on the other side of the border. Chased by border patrolmen on horseback and in helicopters, the two ride and walk over difficult country in south Texas and northern Mexico. Though the issues are not the same, there are echoes here of 1962's great LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga cannot match the combined skills of that film's writers, Edward Abbey and Dalton Trumbo, but there is some of the same power in this story.
Arriaga is not very subtle in showing where his sympathies lie. His Mexican characters are somewhat idealized. All are decent, earthy people just trying to survive in a harsh world. There is rarely even a "chinga" in their speech. Most of his gringos live hopeless, dull lives that crawl at a snail's pace under the hot Texas sun. Their personal relationships are dysfunctional. They live at the boring, slow, and languorous pace of people living in Larry McMurtry novels. A few, mostly law enforcement officers, are actively nasty and evil. Mike Norton sees the illegal immigrants who pass by his territory as little more than animals, not unlike how he sees his wife. He seems to enjoy his job because it gives him a chance to hunt them and with little supervision he can read Hustler Magazine on the job. Pete, the Jones character, is a decent man who knows something should be done when his friend is killed. Jones usually plays his characters with the crispness of the characters he played in MEN IN BLACK and in THE FUGITIVE. Here he has the resolve, but seems more to be a man beaten down by the world. He finds there will be no justice from the authorities, so he has to take matters into his own hands. Arriaga won acclaim for his 21 GRAMS in which the sequences of the story were told in non-chronological and apparently random order. The early parts of this film are told in much the same way and it is quite difficult to keep track of the order of events. Chris Menges, who also recently filmed NORTH COUNTRY, captures the mountainous, sun-beaten beauty of the border country.
THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is a simple, likable portrait of the personalities one find near the border. There is some anger at the American law enforcement officers but the film's main thrust is not anger for the Americans but respect for the aliens who come over the border looking to improve the lives of their families. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
INSIDE JOB by Connie Willis (ISBN 1-59606-024-7) is described on the jacket as being "a tale of spiritualists, seances, skeptics, and a love that just might be able to rise above it all." This makes it sound like a love story. It isn't. And while Connie Willis is arguably "the master of the science fiction novella," this is not one of the best examples of that. It has what I consider a major underlying flaw, which I cannot describe without spoiling the story. (Email me if you really want to know.) Subterranean Press has done a very nice job with this book, with cream-colored pages and dark blue (rather than black) print. Of course, at $35 for a hundred-page hardcover, they should. (I hope it's acid-free paper!) If, like me, you can check this out of your library, then I can recommend it. (All praises to my public library in Old Bridge, New Jersey, for getting books like this rather than just the major releases of the big publishers.)
INTRODUCING AMERICAN POLITICS by Patrick Brogan and Chris Garratt (ISBN 1-840-46098-9) was written in 1999 by two Brits primarily for a British audience. It is clearly not impartial; talking about internal party divisions, they say, "This ideological woolliness never strikes Americans as in any way odd." They also say that before 1947 "black athletes [baseball players] had played only in black teams against each other." First of all, at the very beginning of baseball, there were integrated teams. And secondly, even during segregation, there were exhibition games where black teams played against white teams. I suppose it is worth reading this to see what some British think of American politics, but a bit misguided to be read as an accurate look.
I read MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (a.k.a. MURDER IN THE CALAIS COACH) (ISBN 0-425-17375-5) because I had just heard the BBC radio version and seen the 1974 movie. There seemed to be some gaps in explanation in these dramatic versions, and I was curious if these were in the book itself. And, yes, they were. It remains a complete mystery how Poirot comes to some of his conclusions. (At one point, in fact, he just says "I sense a good cook instinctively" as if that made any sense.) Christie's stories seem to rely on something not just extremely unlikely, but almost unfair. (And she has *at least* three stories which turn on the intentional misidentification of a corpse! That is just pushing it.) [-ecl]
[Actually there is sort of an interesting story associated with this novel. Evelyn told me that in Britain the novel was called MURDER IN THE CALAIS COACH and when it came to America it was given the more sensational title MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. I told her that it must have had the CALAIS COACH title at some point in the United States because I can remember having a Pocket Books edition with the CALAIS COACH title. A little research told me that Evelyn was right that it was indeed originally called MURDER IN THE CALAIS COACH and when it crossed the Atlantic it was retitled MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. She just had the direction it crossed the Atlantic wrong. Its first appearance was in the Saturday Evening Post and it had the CALAIS COACH title. It later appeared in Britain and the more sensational title was for that audience. Americans probably would not have realized there was anything romantic about the Orient Express until Ian Fleming introduced them to it. In fact, the actual train was not particularly romantic at the time of Christie or Fleming. Accounts say in the 1940s to the it was no longer a very clean or lavish train. In the late 1970s it was terminated, but it was restored in 1982 to its former glory after the book and films gave it so much free publicity. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: To question a wise man is the beginning of wisdom. -- German Proverb
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