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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/17/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 38, Whole Number 1326
Table of Contents
Philcon 2005 Report Available:
Evelyn's Philcon 2005 report is available at
which should have no bandwidth problems.
How to Find a Human (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
If you hate having to go through all the choices when you call customer service, and just want to talk to a human being, http://www.gethuman.com/us/ may help you figure out how to get one. For example, if you call amazon.com at 800-201-7575, don't press or say anything.
Oh, and if you couldn't find the number for amazon.com, you might want to check out http://clicheideas.com/amazon.htm, which also includes numbers for Netflix, PayPal, and others. [-ecl]
A Journey Into a Black Hole (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is building a Black Hole Flight Simulator. This will show people what it is actually like to travel into a black hole. It shows you what you actually experience. But because you are an MT VOID reader, I can save you a trip to Denver. I can actually tell you what it is like to travel into a black hole. It is very dark and it hurts a lot. [-mrl]
What I Did Not Like About SPIDER-MAN II (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing my list of problems with the film SPIDER-MAN 2.
Some scenes in this film are downright silly. This is the kind of film where you have women running screaming directly into the camera lens, breaking the fourth wall. Other scenes have Spidey's girlfriend MaryJane running down a New York street in a bridal gown. But the real surreal touch is having her lying in the Spider-Man web like a fly while Parker crawls around like a spider. Isn't that romantic?
The script seems to me to be extremely contrived. In all my years of going to New York City I suppose there were crimes being committed someplace, but I never saw a sign of it any worse than a public urination. Peter Parker goes into town and the world seems to fall apart. There are police car chases, police foot chases, and bank robberies. All these call for Spider-Man's help and the frequency of crimes only increases just when Parker most needs to have time for personal needs. Coincidence piled on coincidence seems to be the heart of the plot. Parker is already good friends with Dr. Octavius before the Doc becomes a monster. He is doing a report on the scientist's work. Also they know each other through a mutual friend who just happens to be the son of the Green Goblin. Anybody who is anybody starts out being not more than two degrees of separation from anybody else. And when Doc Ock picks a bank to rob, who is in it but Peter Parker and his dear old aunt?
Speaking of the bank robbery, I have no idea what the point of that is. Yes, Ock may need money for his further research, but I can't see his being able to use cash from a bank robbery. I can't imagine Doc Ock on the telephone saying, "Hey, I am depositing one million dollars into your bank account. Please deliver a bunch of tritium to the laboratories of the mad scientist Doc Ock, no questions asked, okay? Oh, and if the place may be being watched, which it probably is, can you try to deliver the goods when nobody's looking?" I just would like to see how the Doc intends to use the boodle.
What else? Rarely have we seen any superhero with a secret identity be so cavalier about revealing that secret. During the course of this film he reveals this super-secret identity to his friend/opponent Harry (1), to Doc Ock (2), and to his girl friend (3). He takes his mask off when sitting over the city in plain sight on a crane (who knows how many). He rips his mask off while fighting on the roof of a speeding train (who knows how many more). It clearly would have been blown away and be lost on the city streets. Slight digression: without the train ever stopping some passengers are able to rescue the mask. Parker lets a whole train carload of passengers see his face where anyone with a cell phone camera could snap a picture. Literally dozens of people have seen the face that they know to be Spider-Man's in the course of this film, yet he still officially has a secret identity. The film assumes people are incredibly oblivious. And Parker is not very discrete about using his powers when people can see he is Peter Parker. As Spider-Man Parker makes no attempt to disguise his voice when he talks to his aunt, but it does not occur to her that there is anything familiar about the voice. Of course, the aunt seems a little deaf . . . and strange also. Her husband was apparently killed by a mugger. Not knowing Peter *feels* responsible for that death, she says, "Were I to face the one responsible . . ." rather than, "If I were to face the killer" as you or I would. She has no reason to think that anyone other than the killer would be responsible, so why not just call him "the killer"?
These are not real people in this film. Aunt May does not recognize her own nephew's voice, as I said. Peter Parker does not seem to know what time his school classes end. MaryJane is supposed to be a good actor, but gets distracted by checking out who is in the audience and she lets it show in her performance. And it seems unlikely that Parker would just leave this suit in a random garbage can.
Yes, the entire subplot of the lost suit makes no sense. Jameson is talking to two of his flunkies. Among the three of them they must see all parts of the room, yet none of them notices that Peter Parker sneaks into the room and steals back his costume and leaves a note in a matter of three or four seconds. Right! Even when somebody shares an elevator with Spider-Man that person does not believe this is the real Spider-Man in the real Spider-Man suit. But the hard-nosed Jameson sees a Spider-Man suit somebody has found and immediately assumes it is authentic.
A few more miscellaneous questions and comments: If Parker is such a nerd, why do so many attractive blondes seem to like him? Okay, it is only two, but for a nerd like him, that's a lot. Take it from me.
When Doc Ock wants to get away from Spider-Man why doesn't he go where there are no tall buildings for Spidey to swing from? This film seems to give the impression that there are tall buildings all over Manhattan. It just is not true. Why do people in this world seem to know the Spider-Man TV cartoon theme?
Other than those, I had few problems with the film. I don't find CGI objectionable but here frequently it is unconvincing. I guess I can live with that. But of 219 reviews of this film on rottentomatoes.com, 203 of the reviews are positive. All I can say is that there were an overwhelming number of problems with the film and most don't seem to bother anyone.
By the way, I appreciate comments on this article given to me by superhero expert and fan Nick Sauer. (Nick has an encyclopedic knowledge of much of popular culture.) Nick is not as critical of the film as I am. (Nobody seems to be.) He actually liked the film overall. But he nonetheless added to my list of problems. I missed including the question of where in New York City do you find elevated train tracks right next to skyscrapers, or even where elevated train tracks than end with simple and easily breakable bumpers. [-mrl]
COALESCENT by Stephen Baxter (copyright 2004, Ballantine/ Del Rey, $7.50, 527pp, ISBN 0-345-45786-2) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I keep telling myself that I should be reading more Stephen Baxter. After all, I've really enjoyed what I've read of his stuff in the past, and I have something like eight or ten Baxter books on my to-read stack. Yep, I buy them, but never get around to reading them. After COALESCENT (and the never-ending "Dune" series), that is going to change.
COALESCENT is Baxter's first novel in the "Destiny's Children" series. I know, I know--yet another series, and I don't like series, as a rule. I picked up the book on a lunchtime walk from my downtown Chicago workplace to a nearby Books-A-Million store (it's really dangerous having that store within a ten-minute walk of my office), and I'm glad I did.
George Poole's father has died suddenly, and now faces the undesirable task of tying up all the loose ends. George is a loner, a manager at a software firm, drifting along to nowhere. He goes to his father's house to go through the items there and take care of things that need to be done. He runs into an old schoolmate of his, Peter McLachlan, who has been helping and taking care of George's father for some time. Peter helps him go through the house, wherein George finds a childhood picture of himself with a girl who has the same features that he does but he doesn't know. He also finds evidence that his father has been sending money to an organization called The Puissant Order of Holy Mary Queen of Virgins. After some sleuth work he believes that the girl is a sister he doesn't remember. He goes to visit his sister in Florida (Poole lives in England) to tie up some loose end and talk to her about it. She is very reticent on the subject. In fact, everywhere George turns, he runs into resistance concerning the matter.
Back to Peter for a moment. Peter is a stereotypical nerd. He's an ex-cop-turned-computer-geek, and basically has no life. He is interested in all sorts of weird, unexplained phenomenon, such as the Kuiper Anomaly that was just discovered, and all sorts of other weird things that he believes are linked together. Poole is not sure what to make of him--especially when he keeps popping up at all sorts of strange times.
Now to a parallel story. Regina is a little girl that is growing up in Britain during the decline there of the Roman Empire. She is forced to leave her home when her father dies performing a ritual to a god he worships and her mother mysteriously does not come with her. Regina's odyssey is one of pain, sorrow, and one catastrophe after another. Finally, she ends up in Rome, looking for her mother as well as the long lost father of her daughter, Brica. She finds both, as well as the very beginnings of the previously mentioned Order, which is a remnant of the Vestal Virgins of the Roman Empire. Regina takes control of the Order and turns it into a vehicle for the perpetuation of her family.
Well, George eventually gets to Rome and finds his sister, Rosa, who is in the Order. And things just get weird from here. Rosa takes him into the Crypt, the home of the Order. All the residents, mostly female, have these haunting slate blue/gray eyes. There doesn't appear to be any organization holding the thing together. He finds out that most of the girls have never gone through puberty--their reproductive systems never developed. And that girls end up getting pregnant and giving birth in rapid fire succession--after having sex only one time--and that the pregnancies only last thirteen weeks. And Peter shows up, and after talking to Poole about the situation comes up with some very disturbing theories about what is going on in the Order.
This is a very compelling and frightening story. As the nature of the Order was revealed, I found myself strangely repulsed by it. That in and of itself is unusual, because I typically never get that strong a reaction to a novel or any of the ideas presented in one. It is also a story of grand scope--which is why it is obvious that it needs to be a trilogy. And, to top it all off, I can't figure out where it's headed just yet.
This is a terrific book--and, as usual, I can't figure out how it snuck through the Hugo radar. But, as you all know, my tastes and that of the rest of the SF community just don't get along. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, EXULTANT, which I will review after I finish and review HERETICS OF DUNE. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE MARTIAN WAR by Gabriel Mesta (ISBN 0-7434-639-9) is an expansion of "Scientific Romance" and "Canals in the Sand" by Kevin J. Anderson (who for some reason has adopted the penname "Gabriel Mesta" for this book). This is actually two inter- leaved stories, each of which could have stood on its own (though since the two together are only 256 pages, each would have been a bit skimpy). One story has Percival Lowell and Dr. Moreau providing a signal in the Sahara to bring a Martian spaceship there, and their subsequent adventures with the invaders. The other has H. G. Wells, T. H. Huxley, and almost all the remaining characters from the books of the real H. G. Wells traveling to the moon and then to Mars to battle the Martians. In addition to all these characters, Mesta re-uses themes and phrases, making the book as much a game of "spot that reference" as a story in itself. On the whole, this is a fairly lightweight entry in the field of pastiches of Wells. (Though not labeled as such, I suspect this is intended as a "young adult" novel.)
FLAMING LONDON by Joe R. Lansdale (ISBN 1-59606-025-5) is another pastiche of Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS. (2005 was definitely the year for WAR OF THE WORLDS: *three* new movies, and at least two new books.) From Subterranean Press, this is more aimed at the higher end of the market, like the Willis novella INSIDE JOB (which I reviewed in the 02/17/06 issue). There is supposedly a $25 trade hardcover edition in addition to the $40 signed, limited edition, which was not true of the Willis. However, it is also only 177 pages long, about 65,000 words. Considering how few words it has, it is a pity that so many are used to describe anatomical features of the nether regions. (It is not clear to me that we needed to read even once that the Martians generate gas through two posterior orifices. Telling us this four or five times is definitely unnecessary.) The language makes it clear that this is *not* intended as a young adult novel. And Lansdale's use of Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells is somewhat capricious--there is nothing in the story requiring them as opposed to any other characters. (But if he is going to use Twain, and if he is going to cite "The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper", then he should at least spell it correctly.) Lansdale's writing shows more style--it is just that it is a style I do not like.
FIFTY DEGREES BELOW by Kim Stanley Robinson (ISBN 0-553-80312-3) is a sequel to FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN. The high-concept description for FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN would be "Katrina hits Washington D.C."; for FIFTY DEGREES BELOW is would be "The Day After Tomorrow." Robinson's writing has always has an ecological bent. Unfortunately, it has become more and more a combination of info- dump and agenda, to the extent that I found it impossible to slog through this.
Last week, I reviewed LEAVE ME ALONE, I'M READING by Maureen Corrigan. In that book, Corrigan recommended LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis (ISBN 0-140-18630-1) as the funniest book about academia she had read. And the blurb on the edition in the library says, "No one has been so funny in this vein since Evelyn Waugh was at his best." [Arthur Mizener] Well, add this to the list of books that I tried, but could not see the point in finishing. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Existentialism is less a philosophical system than a bad mood. -- William Wilson and Judy Jones
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