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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/07/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 41, Whole Number 1329
Table of Contents
Free Hugo Nominated Novels in eBook Form:
We have previously published how to get online shorter fiction
nominated for Hugo Awards this year. For (what I believe to be)
the first time you can also get electronic versions of the two
novels that were published by Tor Books. If you have the right to
vote for the Hugo Award or the Campbell Awards (generally people
who are members of the Worldcon) Tor Books is making available
complete novels in RTF format. Go to
Quote from the website: "For the duration of the 2006 Hugo and Campbell campaign, Tor Books has graciously reverted certain electronic rights to John Scalzi and Robert Charles Wilson concerning their Hugo-nominated novels OLD MAN'S WAR and SPIN. This allows the two of them to make special electronic editions available at request to 2006 Hugo and Campbell voters. The authors have put together a package of both books for the voters' convenience. Where can they get these special editions? Well, right here, of course!"
Go to the website for further details. (I know Evelyn is going to get after me for saying that the books are in RTF format. I suppose that she is right that it is redundant. RTF stands for "Rich Text Format" so I am really saying Rich Text Format Format. But if I just say RTF people may not know I am telling a format. I could say RT Format and Evelyn would like it, but nobody would know what I mean. I guess I will go for clarity at the expense of correctness.) [-mrl]
FORBIDDEN'S 50th (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last month was a small anniversary that should not go unmentioned. On the 15th of last month (oddly the Ides of March), we passed the 50th year since the release of one of the most imaginative and influential science fiction films ever made. That film is the visionary FORBIDDEN PLANET--once claimed to be the first science fiction film to ever take place entirely in space. No scenes of this film take place on earth or even in our solar system, though the characters are all humans. Well . . . that is if we disqualify a robot from being a character. Sadly, it does not hold the distinction of being the first truly space- bound film. That distinction probably goes to CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON. This could well be the second such film.
FORBIDDEN PLANET may be the best science fiction film of the 1950s. It is the closest to the quality of written science fiction, a genuine scientific puzzle with a sophisticated problem solution. Along the way we really are given all the clues necessary to solve the murder. Visually the film probably shows the greatest imagination of any Fifties film (in any genre) and even when seen in its widescreen format, much of it still looks very good half a century later. The imaginative planet-scapes and space-scapes arguably would not be surpassed until STAR WARS. (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY went in for realistic rather than imaginative views.) For the pre-digital age, the effects are very impressive. And the scenes are all the more exciting in widescreen format. And this is true in spite of the fact that what was released was only a rough-cut of the film with what we shall see are plenty of errors. Not that it is so much a tribute to this film, but when Gene Roddenberry was planning the original "Star Trek" series, he pitched it as being "'Wagon Train' to the stars," but what he was really planning was "FORBIDDEN PLANET: The TV Series." The film is almost a template for the original "Star Trek". Bits of the ideas show up throughout science fiction to come like bits of the props showed up in "Twilight Zone" episodes.
The characters are a little stereotypical and 1950s-ish in their sensibilities and their morality. Much has been made of the idea that the story was built around the plot of Shakespeare's TEMPEST. That may be true, but little more than the basic situation and some of the characters are taken from the Shakespeare. The murder mystery, which is the main thrust of the plot, and the character's motivations, are entirely different from the Shakespeare. For those who have not seen it, the story, in short, deals with a rescue mission to the planet Altair IV. An expedition to that planet two decades earlier had disappeared without a sign. As the film starts United Planets Cruiser C-57D captained by Commander Adams (played by Leslie Nielsen) comes to investigate and discovers the sole survivor living on the planet with his daughter. Nearly everyone else from the expedition had been killed under very mysterious circumstances, ripped apart by an unseen force. Only Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his wife survived, and the wife died of what we are told were natural causes a year or so later. (In the light of the denouement one wonders if that is actually true.) Morbius's only company is his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) who was born on this planet and Robbie, a fascinating robot who talks but prefixes every speech with the sound of an old-fashioned mechanical adding machine.
Connected with the mystery of what happened to the original expedition is the fact that the planet was at one time millions of years earlier inhabited by a super-scientific civilization that were called the Krell. One of the points of the story was to show the immense power that the Krell had, and for once, what we see really seems to confirm the fact. The great set piece of the film is a visit to one of four hundred Krell power shafts. We see four or five levels of what we are told are 7800 levels. So what we are seeing is a tiny fraction of what the film claims the Krell had, but what we do see is dumbfoundingly immense. This is a film that really dwarfs the human and overwhelms the viewer with the magnitude of what is possible.
This is a film with beautiful effects that rely in large part on matte paintings and not models. That approach gave the effects department much more artistic freedom in the images it could create. Mostly the effect was used for planet-scapes and space- scapes, and they are impressive. Then there is Robby, the most famous film robot outside of the "Star Wars" universe. Over the years the suit became almost a star in itself. The design is incredibly creative, a flurry of moving parts and flashing lights to make it look more a mechanical device than man in a robot suit. Each time the robot speaks it is prefaced by the noise of a cash register as if it is computing mechanically. The voice is that of Marvin Miller, a familiar voice often used for narration and dubbing at the time. And those who remember 1950s television may remember him as Michael Anthony in the series "The Millionaire."
Apparently MGM wanted to get the film out with as little expense as possible. It had cost $1.9 million, then the most ever spent to make a science fiction film, and they did not want to sink much more in. The executives decided to release the rough-cut of the film rather than pay for a final editing. As a result we see many editing problems that really should have been corrected. There are little pieces of conversations that seem either incomplete or totally incoherent.
Special mention should be made of the electronic music by Louis and Beebe Barron. It was the first totally electronic score in a feature film and the MGM music department would not even allow it to be called a score. They were somewhat disappointed that there was not more interest in their new musical form. In 1976 Louis Barron decided that there might be a market for the soundtrack on record. He still had tapes so had some cases made up at his own expense. He had not much luck finding a market and he brought a case to MidAmericon, the World Science Fiction Convention. He hoped that there might be some interest in the record. He told himself that science fiction fans might still be interested in the score after twenty-one years. As he told me at the convention, after selling in the huckster room for an hour he put in an emergency call home to his wife Beebe saying he had run out and asking her to ship him the all rest of the cases as quickly as possible. He had no idea the degree of demand that there would be either for the record or for himself. He found himself to be a celebrity and the record suddenly found a large market. For years after that I remember seeing copies of the record for sale. I believe it is even on CD. I hope the latter-day popularity of the score helped the Barrons in their later years.
MGM was not able themselves to do all the effects for FORBIDDEN PLANET and got some technical aid from Disney Studios. The result is that several of the scenes have the unmistakable feel of Disney animation. When we see sparks in Robby's dome, or long arcs of electricity, they look like Disney animation. When walking to the reactor, we see a scene in the power shaft that looks very much like Disney animation. I assume they also did the rays coming out of the blasters, but not very well. The line of the blast remains steady even though the gun is shaking around.
Even with all the groundbreaking approaches in this film, the filmmakers were afraid to make a future without paying their respects to religion. This was, after all, a 1950s film. A special effort is made to show that these future people still believe in God. As Ostrow says, "The Lord sure made some beautiful worlds." In other words, even in this future world people are religious.
Leslie Neilsen plays his role straight, as he would for his roles for many years to come. But it is hard to see him in this film without being reminded of his later slapstick comedy roles. Clearly a bit uncomfortable is Walter Pidgeon in a role very unlike what he was used to playing. Of course that quality may add a need edge to his performance. Anne Francis in an ingenue role is somewhat more intelligent than many young starlets have been in similar roles. Les Tremayne who played the General in War of the Worlds narrates three or four sentences at the beginning.
This is one of the great classic films of science fiction, and it remains as intelligent and entertaining today as it ever was. [-mrl]
HERETICS OF DUNE by Frank Herbert (copyright 1984 by Frank Herbert, Putnam, 480pp, $16.95, ISBN 0-399-12898-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
As I continue to read (and review) the original Frank Herbert Dune novels, through my older (and hopefully wiser and more knowledgeable eyes) I think I may actually see the thread that Frank wove throughout his novels. Or maybe *I've* been taking too much melange . . . .
HERETICS OF DUNE is the fifth installment in the original Dune series, and takes place some 1500 years after the time of Leto II, God Emperor and Tyrant of Dune. It is a different story--it really doesn't have the feel of a "Dune" story, but then again neither did GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE. However, it turns out that God Emperor was a link between the first trilogy and what was supposed to be the second trilogy before Frank died and left us hanging (but more about that in my review of CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE-- and more about that later too).
The death of Leto II at the end of God Emperor resulted in the Scattering and the Famine times--we find out more about the former than the latter, but I suppose that there's not much to say about the Famine times. I'm guessing that there wasn't enough food to go around. Anyway, the various races scattered to all corners of the known universe, and now the descendents of those who left are coming back home. On top of that, the Bene Gesserit have yet another major plot brewing, and the Bene Tleilax believe that it is finally time for their ascendance. Oh yeah, we have yet another Duncan Idaho ghola (who may or may not be modified by the Tleilaxu for their own purposes); a girl named Sheanna who can command sandworms; a bunch of priests who follow the teachings of the Divided God (if you remember, Leto II claimed that at his death a small piece of him would end up in every sandtrout that would come into being when he died); the Fish Speakers (a holdover from GOD EMPEROR, but barely an issue here); a new type of Tleilaxu Face Dancer that can completely absorb the memories and personality of the person it is mimicking; Miles Teg, legendary Bashar and yet another in the Atreides line; and oh, yes, the Honored Matres.
The Honored Matres are among those coming back from the Scattering. In essence, they are twisted Bene Gesserit, using sexual predatory methods to gain control over entire populations.
Let's go back to the Atreides things for a minute. The Bene Gesserit are fearful of creating another Kwisatz Haderach, so they closely monitor all bloodlines even remotely related to the Atreides. It turns out that Teg, Sheanna, and Reverand Mother Odrade, another key character in the story, all have Atreides blood. Sheanna, in particular, is descended from Siona, and thus cannot be seen by prescience.
There, I think that's all of it.
Okay--here we go. The Bene Gesserit want the latest Duncan to breed with Sheanna for their own purposes. Duncan, who at the beginning of the book has not yet received his memories, is also to be Imprinted--that's where Lucilla, another Reverand Mother comes in--she's an Imprinter. But the Tleilaxu have done something to this ghola that puts that plan in peril. Teg is supposed to awaken Duncan's memories, but something awakens in him as well that really, really ticks off the Honored Matres, who want to kill Duncan anyway because he has become the equivalent of an Honored Matre in his sexual abilities. They're so ticked off they go about destroying whole planets. Dune is one of them, but that's okay because the Bene Gesserit have this plan to get humanity out from under the influence of the Tyrant, who still appears to have a stranglehold on humanity even though he's been dead for 1500 years.
Got all that?
This is a much better novel than GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE, but still is not up to the standards of the earlier novels in the series. It's still a complex novel in the tradition of the original, but the ecological themes are not there. The characters just aren't as compelling to me as those of the original DUNE were. And while Dune pretty much stands alone, it's obvious that there are more books in this series. So, it's okay, but nothing to write home about.
I will deviate from pattern at this point. I've been alternating between "Dune" and non-"Dune" novels so as not to grow weary of them. At this time, however, with the Hugo nominees having been announced, it's time for my annual foray into reviews of those books--but I don't want to lose the "Dune" thread. So, I will next review CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE, the last of the original "Dune" novels. Then I will either start into the nominees, or will take a slight detour into a non-genre novel first. Until next time. [-jak]
Film Ratings (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In regard to Mark's review of THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, Fred Lerner wrote, "You wrote: 'I rate this documentary a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.' Please explain again why you use two rating scales, and how they differ." [-fl]
Mark's response: Decades ago CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine used a -4 to +4 scale to rate films. 0 was a neutral film. Each point represented some constant times a standard deviation. A Massachusetts friend and I corresponded at the time and both of us read the magazine and started rating films on that scale. That is how I think of films. However, there were too many films that were rated +1 so I broke each number into low, neutral, and high. I have done it ever since and that is the real rating that I use in my reviews. However, most of my readers are uncomfortable with standard deviations and bell-shaped curves. I wanted to give also a standard rating that they would understand. Standard ratings systems used include thumbs-up-or-down, 0-to-4, and 0-to-10. I simply mapped +4 and low +4 to 10/10 high +3 and +3 to 9/10 low +3 and high +2 to 8/10 Extend that down and you get that +1 is the same thing as a 6/10. [-mrl]
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel):
In response to Mark's review of THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON in the 03/31/06 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes, "I thought Mark was far too kind to this movie. I think it's one of the worst things I've seen this year."
[Mark: "I can see that point of view. Last I looked I was the only person to give it a thumbs down in rotten out of something like eight people. It has some interest as a personality study and some of it is amusing where people have to go into mental hospitals to sign contracts with him. This is the kind of film that I tell Evelyn is a 'feel-good' movie. At the end you feel good that though you have been told this guy exists,you know his is not part of your life and you are done with him. CRUMB was the film I first said that about, but it is true here. The feeling is much like I got watching JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, the only really bad Dogma 95 film I have seen. There is was a fictional family which makes it even less likely I will ever know them." -mrl]
Dan: "When I see a movie that tells me some obscure person is a 'genius' and that's why we're examining his life, the first thing the movie has to do is show what makes him said 'genius.' This it utterly fails to do."
[Mark: "It is made for those people who already consider him a genius. I don't think they were trying to convince *me* of that. They did convince me he was financially successful, but that does not impress me if I don't see much genius in his work. -mrl]
Dan: "It gives us people making the assertion, but the evidence offered -- trite, unmemorable music and lyrics and cartoons that aren't much different from what could be found in the notebook of any 7th grader -- fails to make the case."
[Mark: "I though he was more creative than most 7th graders in my school. But not a great talent. The people who do like him like music from groups with names like "Butthole Surfers." Clearly they are not from my subculture." -mrl]
Dan: "Several times during the screening I was wondering if this wasn't a mockumentary along the lines of "Dadetown," where you don't know it's a spoof until the very end. Apparently not. Mark is right that fans of the obscure Mr. Johnston will find it of interest. I wonder if there are enough of them to fill a movie theater."
[Mark: "They did at Toronto. Sadly I was one of them. I won't argue with you about this film because I would be too easily convinced I did rate it too high." -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It is that time of year again. The snow melts away (well, okay, this year that happened quite a while ago), the weather warms up, and the book sales begin. The third week in March is the big time in central New Jersey, with both the Friends of the East Brunswick Library and Bryn Mawr having their sales that week. The former takes place in the (interior) courtyard at a mall, but the latter is truly enormous and fills an entire regulation-sized basketball court *and* a large second room at the Princeton Day School.
We really are trying to buy less, but as Henry Ward Beecher said, "Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?" Of course, we could avoid going to book sales, but one cannot stop buying books altogether, and this is a relatively inexpensive way. For example, I got three books from Shambhala Press at the Bryn Mawr sale (Ralph Waldo Emerson's NATURE AND OTHER WRITINGS, Thomas Cleary's THE SPIRIT OF TAO, and Thomas Merton's THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU). Shambhala is dedicated to the idea that good things come in small packages--their "Pocket Classics" are the size of a pack of cigarettes (and a lot healthier), designed to fit easily in a shirt pocket. (If they have another line of full-sized books, I have never seen it.) At $1 each at the sale, these are great books to take on trips--I had a couple of their books already. And I rationalize that they do not really add much to our *volume* of books.
I also found a Dover classic mystery, J. C. Masterman's AN OXFORD TRAGEDY. Given that Dover seems to have stopped printing many of these mysteries, I buy them whenever I can.
I might have bought a few "Penguin 60s" that they had, but they were charging $1 for paperbacks, and these Penguins cost less than that new (admittedly ten years ago). Since they were stories or essays I had elsewhere, I decided to skip them. While East Brunswick is still selling most paperbacks for fifty cents, Bryn Mawr has decided to charge $1. For some reason, I find this has a dampening effect on my impulse purchases. So much for Henry Ward Beecher.
Last year at Bryn Mawr we bought several Groff Conklin anthologies. This year they had no Conklins (at least by the time we got there), but they did have John W. Campbell's ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGY, H. L. Gold's GALAXY READER OF SCIENCE FICTION, and Harold Kuebler's TREASURY OF SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS. There was also a 1961 textbook of science fiction, JOURNEYS IN SCIENCE FICTION, aimed at high-schoolers, and complete with questions, vocabulary exercises, and related activities. I love these old anthologies and even if we have them, at $1 each they are certainly worth buying and passing on to less fortunate friends.
At East Brunswick, I picked up a copy of Robert Charles Wilson's SPIN the day *before* it was announced as a Hugo nominee. Wilson is one of the authors I collect (which for me means buying all his books eventually, not buying all his first editions). I bought an ex-library copy of the Geoffrey Landis collection IMPACT PARAMETER published by Golden Gryphon, even though it is painful to see library markings on such a well-made book. (The books there are mostly donations, but there are some library discards as well.)
I really must get into the habit of flipping through the books I buy--the copy of Adam Roberts's SCIENCE FICTION has a fair amount of underlining in it, though luckily no highlighting. I guess because I don't write in books, I don't think to check if anyone else has.
Someone at Lunacon recommended Charles Gallenkamp's DRAGON HUNTER, the story of Roy Chapman Andrews's fossil-hunting in Central Asia. So when we saw it in a used book store on the way home from the Bryn Mawr sale, I picked it up as well.
My best find, though, was probably the book I bought in my own library's sale room on the way back from these: the hardcover Loeb Classics bilingual edition of Hippocrates on epidemics, for fifty cents. If I wanted to get this over the Internet it would cost $35.
All in all, we ended up with fifteen books from East Brunswick, fifteen books from Brun Mawr, one from the used book store, and two from the Old Bridge Library. Since I sold about thirty books to the used book store, we really didn't increase our total by very much. Or so I try to tell myself.
Our science fiction group chose DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson (ISBN 0-812-56662-9) for this month's selection. I reviewed this when it came out seven years ago; see http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/rev-w2.htm#darwinia for that review. Briefly, I compared it to the alternate histories of S. M. Stirling's "Island in the Sea of Time" series, Greg Bear's DINOSAUR SUMMER, and Wilson's own MYSTERIUM. Though DARWINIA starts out similarly--in 1912, the "Miracle" happens, and Europe as we know (knew) it vanishes, replaced by a primeval continent with virtually identical geography and geology, but different plant and animal life--it goes in a very different direction.
A few additional comments over what I said in that review. The phrase on page 21 describing the change as being "nothing but wilderness north from Cairo and west at least as far as the Russian steppes" has been corrected to "east at least as far as the Russian steppes." I am not convinced that William Jennings Bryan was as involved in the "age of rocks" before the Scopes Trial as the comment on page 77 would imply. And page 226 implies that the magazine "Astounding" appeared similarly in this new world--would it have?
THE ANNOTATED LOST WORLD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with annotations by Roy Pilot and Alvin Rodin (ISBN 0-938-50123-2) is notable as much for its illustrations as for its annotations. Frequently one page will have the illustration from the Strand publication, and the next will have an illustration from a scientific journal which clearly served as the model for it. Reading it while reading Theodore Roosevelt's THROUGH THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS does point out that Doyle did a very good job of writing the journal of an expedition to the South American wilderness.
THROUGH THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS by Theodore Roosevelt (ISBN 0-8154-1095-6) is Roosevelt's own account of the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition to map what was then called the "River of Doubt" (Rio da Duvida), was renamed Rio Roosevelt, and then later renamed Rio Teodoro. His descriptions of the land, the animals, and the plants are first-rate, but he does somewhat gloss over some of the hardships of the expedition, in specific the illnesses. I suppose perhaps it was considered "unmanly" to complain of malaria, blood poisoning, and so on, but the result is a slightly incomplete picture of the expedition. On the flip side, Roosevelt is very clear about the insufficient provisions, the loss of several canoes, and so on.
Some of the writing is of interest in terms of later scientific discoveries. For example, Roosevelt wrote, "During a geologically recent period, a period extending into that which saw man spread over the world in substantially the physical and cultural stage of many existing savages, South America possessed a varied and striking fauna of enormous beasts—sabre-tooth tigers, huge lions, mastodons, horses of many kinds, camel-like pachyderms, giant ground-sloths, mylodons the size of the rhinoceros, and many, many other strange and wonderful creatures. From some cause, concerning the nature of which we cannot at present even hazard a guess, this vast and giant fauna vanished completely, the tremendous catastrophe (the duration of which is unknown) not being consummated until within a few thousand or a few score thousand years. When the white man reached South America he found the same weak and impoverished mammalian fauna that exists practically unchanged to-day." Now we think we can venture a guess as to the nature of the cause: South America had been an island continent for a long time, and the fauna that develeped were suitable for an isolated environment. When continental drift (unimagined in 1913) brought South America in contact with North America (which in turn had been connected to Eurasia), the much-better-adapted fauna of that continent pretty much wiped out a large proportion the native fauna of South America. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful. -- Friedrich Nietzsche
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