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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/14/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 42, Whole Number 1330
Table of Contents
More Hugo Nominees Available:
You can now find links in the 2006 Hugo and Campbell Nominees list (at http://www.laconiv.org/2006/hugos/nominees.htm that will allow you to read each of the short fiction nominees at no cost . . . and three (so far) of the novels!
In addition to the fiction categories, there are also now links for each of the nominees in these categories:
Spin Doctors (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Spin is everything. I was reading an article that said that was talking about the benefits of exercise. They said "the greatest benefit is for the people least fit." That is such a nice way of saying that the more you already exercise the less benefit you get from increasing that exercise. [-mrl]
Soup (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, last week I talked about politics. This week I think I am on Spring Break and you are on Spring Break so I am going to talk about soup. This is just going to be a sort of digression all about soups.
I like soup. I guess since I was a kid I have had it often. I remember they used to advertise on "Lassie". In those days they had this trademark of two obnoxious-looking fat-headed children. They were supposed to look cute, but their heads were almost spherical and their eyes looked like they were bugging out. It was almost as if these soups had made them so obese that their little fat heads were about to explode. In those days, that passed for cute. On the commercials they would sing "M'm! M'm! Good! M'm! M'm! Good! That's what Campbell's Soups are, M'm! M'm! Good!" Now the weird thing is that they were advertising this way on a children's show. It didn't occur to the Campbell people that this really was not the image that kids had of themselves or wanted to have of themselves. Nobody wants to be a Campbell kid. People might end up looking that way when Nature goes somehow wrong. But the promise of looking anything like the Campbell kids was no enticement whatsoever to kids to consume soup.
Of course being fair, there were good things Campbell's did to advertise. It was Campbell's Soup that came to Orson Welles's rescue after he committed a science fictional faux pas on Mutual Radio Network. That night in October, 1938, was the end of the Mercury Theater under that name, but it did continue on the radio as Campbell Playhouse. I think that in gratitude, Welles swelled up so he had the same sort of spherical head as the Campbell kids. In his later years he looked like a Campbell kid with a beard. But that is a digression. I was talking about the mid- 1950s.
In those days, when I was about five, I had Campbell Tomato Soup a lot at lunchtime. I think my mother and I would share a can. It was a nice, convenient, cheap lunch. The problem is that there were not a whole lot of soups to choose from. Dietary restrictions dictated that any Campbell's Soups we bought had to be vegetarian. I got to know Campbell Tomato Soup and Campbell Cream of Mushroom Soup really well. We still have cans of both in the cupboard. For years Campbell claimed that their condensed soups were as good as the fancy continental soups.
Campbell's Soups are not the soups I have frequently these days. Ramen has replaced them as the kind of soup I have the most. Like the Chinese seem to, I will frequently have ramen for breakfast. I have that and some weird canned mushrooms--oyster mushrooms, abalone mushrooms, and that sort of thing. Any Chinese mushroom named for shellfish is good. They make a nice filling breakfast. But I also like various gourmet soups. Soup is a good thing to order when you eat al fresco in fancy continental cafes. If it rains you can spend all afternoon on one bowl.
Somehow the ordinary rules of food and drink do not apply to soup just like they don't seem to apply to pizza. Now this is going to be a shocker to my family. When I make some soups, I add sherry. Some times a fair amount of sherry. Why is that a shocker? Generally I can't stand the taste of alcohol. The first time you taste alcohol as a kid it tastes terrible, but you get over that. At least some people do. I never did. I cannot imagine what people taste when they drink wine. If it is what I taste, they must be nuts to drink it more than once. But I do drink one alcoholic beverage. I drink sherry. But I need a mixer. And the mixer is a whole lot of black bean soup. With tablespoon of sherry I need a mixer of a cup or more of black bean soup. But I do have a taste for continental soups.
So I saw that Campbell is branching out. Now they have a line of non-condensed fancy soups. They have them in a box (liquid soup in a box?), ready to eat. You pour it out and the soup is ready to reheat. There is no preparation time. Zero. If you use a microwave it is even faster. I think that may even violate causality.
We got a box of Blended Red Pepper Black Bean Soup. Evelyn saw it and knew I liked spicy things so I would like the red pepper. She also knew I liked Black Bean Soup. And I could probably add sherry if I wanted. So we paid a small premium for this fancy soup, but I was willing to try it. Just the thought of a continental soup from Campbell seemed weird. They have some an image of homey middle American soup.
Well, I opened the box and heated the soup looking forward to it. It looked more like tomato soup than black bean soup. Well, they *were* Campbell and tomato is their flagship soup. So I stuck in a spoon and dipped out some Blended Red Pepper Black Bean Soup. Then I realized with one taste that I had tasted this before. I know Tomato Soup when I taste it. This was it. Maybe there was some difference, but almost none detectable.
Then I realized why Campbell came out with this line of soups. It was not that they expected to sell. They brought it out to demonstrate that it did not sell. I can imagine some executive at Campbell laughing at me and saying, "Okay. There is proof. Didn't we tell you that our soups were a lot like those fancy continental soups? Fancy Blended Red Pepper Black Bean Soup tastes just like Campbell Tomato Soup." [-mrl]
FORBIDDEN PLANET (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Mark's review of FORBIDDEN PLANET in the 04/07/06 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes:
Perhaps it's heresy to suggest it, but I wish there was a version of Forbidden Planet with a more conventional adventure movie score. It would really add some oomph to the door burning climax particularly. I realize simple emotional music cues can be considered manipulative devices, but I can't help missing them in this movie. Some of the electronic score could perhaps work in unison with a traditional score, but it really sounds a lot like sound effects and is almost distracting that way.
I also wish the studio would release a "restored" version, which would really be a finished version, i.e., cleaning up the crappy edits. The rough cutting is painful in some places, and it hurts the pacing. I don't know what MGM was thinking, except that perhaps with everything on screen being exotic, and the score being disorienting, the editing probably wouldn't matter. Tighten up these things, and the film would indeed hold up against modern productions. It doesn't have to sound or look modern as much as simply demonstrate good craft for the time, since plenty movies going back even farther are engrossing despite their age by simply being good stories, well made. As it is, the ideas and general imagery of Forbidden Planet hold up well, but the lack of craft in editing, and the gimmicky score, do not, IMO. [-ak]
Your suggestion is NOT heresy, but I am not keen on the idea either.
Where filmmakers have gone back and improved on popular films, the fans of those films have not been happy or encouraging. Note that George Lucas has done that with the three earlier released "Star Wars" films. People want their classic films, warts and all, as they were when they first saw them. The film fans seem to accept changes occurring up to a few days after the initial release then they want the film fixed and unchanging. I can see positive aspects of George Lucas's revisions which make it possible to forge six films into what is really a single film. I would not like to see FORBIDDEN PLANET altered to be the best film it could be, the problems are too much a part of the film I have come to love. The corrections would do little to make it better science fiction, they would just make it a more polished movie. I would rather see repaired the films like A SOUND OF THUNDER that are polished but bad science fiction. [-mrl]
FORBIDDEN PLANET Cameras (letter of comment by Daniel T. Cox):
In Mark's review of FORBIDDEN PLANET in the 04/07/06 issue of the MT VOID, he wrote, "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."
Dan Cox points out, "A lot of cameras sold today have either optical image stabilization or electronic image stabilization. I guess the FORBIDDEN PLANET guns use this technology in reverse. Science Fiction predicts Science Fact again :-) [-dtc]
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a courtroom drama about an alleged demonic possession and the resulting exorcism. The story is loosely based on real events. THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE sports a very good cast, solid production values, and an intelligent script. By modern standards the gore is minimal and most of the thrills come from production craftsmanship. That quality treatment has become a rarity among horror films. It does not make this a classic, but it is a decent and even compelling horror film. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE is something I do not remember ever having seen before. It is a horror film told mostly in flashback as a courtroom drama. As the film opens, Emily Rose (played by Jennifer Carpenter) has died while under the care of her parish priest Father Moore (played by Tom Wilkinson) after a siege of what is said to be demonic possession. Moore is charged with negligent homicide for the death and the Church hires Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a successful lawyer hoping to make partner in her firm. Moore is dissatisfied with having a high-powered lawyer and wants only that the truth of the case be known. For the prosecution the court has chosen Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). Thomas, in a somewhat unprofessional mustache, is a religious man. He is putting his personal beliefs aside for his duty to prove that Emily Rose had been attacked not by demons, but by epilepsy and hysteria.
Even though this is supposed to be based on a true story, we are in the world of a horror film. The script tries to be even- handed, letting both sides appear to believe in their cause. The producers of the film can claim that the film is impartial. However, the mere fact that Emily's horrific visions are shown on the screen as if they were real leads the viewer to believe that the filmmaker was on the side of making the possession real. Admittedly, in films like A BEAUTIFUL MIND and PROOF what we are intended to accept as mental delusions are shown very literally on the screen. Even if the supernatural were given even-handed treatment it would lend credence to that point of view. On the other hand, the fact that the story of Emily Rose is mostly related in the third person tells us what we see on the film is only what Emily was saying she had seen.
There are some screen touches that seem odd. In a recently adjourned courtroom still full of people she tells her client in an audible voice that they are going to lose. That seems unprofessional, as does telling the jury that "facts leave no room for possibilities" as if facts are a bad thing. This does not strike me as a good thing to say in a court of law. When Emily expresses stigmata they appear in the wrong places on her body. That is historically inaccurate as is, I believe, portraying the Virgin Mary as a blonde. In the media the traditional hour of evil, going back to "Ruddigore" (if not before), has always been midnight. In this film we are told it is 3 AM. Much of what happens in this film that is evil happens at 3 AM.
The style of the film is intentionally oppressive. A very limited color palette is used with colors keyed to themes. Green is used in scenes of confinement, red for danger. Background sound in very low registers contributes to the viewers' unease as does a score that has little or no melody. The visual movement relies heavily on handheld camera and other flexible camera effects. There seem to be many echoes of THE EXORCIST, though it is hard to imagine a film about exorcism that does not echo that film. Another scene involving a car accident is strongly reminiscent of NIGHT OF THE DEMON.
This is a well-produced, atmospheric film with a lot of familiar faces. But the intelligent script is the best touch. I rate THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
SIR! NO SIR! (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: David Zeigler's documentary tells the story of how the Vietnam War bred a protest movement within the lower ranks of the military itself and how the military tried to suppress that movement. Eyewitness testimony recreates the extremes of the war, the GI protest activity, and the commanders' attempts to subdue and hide the protests. This is a film about the past and about the present. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
With the Vietnam War the United States military was faced with a kind of enemy and war that it had not much faced in the past. The North Vietnamese military was only a second-class force facing the most powerful military in the world, so there were initially high expectations of an easy victory. But at the same time the United States was facing a stubborn and widespread insurrection, a war in which the greatest enemy was very hard to distinguish from non-combatants. Much of this invisible force did not fight honorably by battlefield rules. Faced with a conflict that they had not been adequately trained for and for which they had no clear strategy, the United States military fought the war in the way they thought was most effective. They fought in ways that were frequently barbaric and which they did not want publicized. This soon bred a strong resistance movement within the lower ranks of the military itself, something that was very unusual in US history. Again the commanders were in unfamiliar territory and frequently used force to try to overcome the political expression that the troops felt was their constitutional right. David Zeigler's SIR! NO SIR! is a documentary covering US abuses in waging the war, the GI anti-war movement, and the military's reaction to a wide-spread resistance activity among its own troops. Parallels to the Iraqi conflict are inevitable, but also intentional.
The bulk of SIR! NO SIR! is eyewitness accounts by participants in the GI anti-war movement. Over a dozen protesters tell their stories of the abuses from torture and murder of civilians to bombing and massacring villages. There are accounts of GIs with head and neck injuries paralyzed for life and asking their doctors to kill them. Once the case is put forward for the brutality of the military policy the film tells of the anti-war movement and of how the military attempted to suppress it.
The soldiers and others who resisted tell their stories of their protests and of how the military punished them. We hear of trainers court-marshaled for refusing to teach others to fight the war. A Navy nurse tells of dropping anti-war leaflets over military bases. The story of the Tyrell's Boycott is particularly amusing. Tyrell's was jewelry store chain that positioned itself near military bases. They were very open in their policy of selling GIs jewelry to send to their families as something to remember them by if they are killed in action. And as a special bonus, debt on the jewelry was cancelled if and when the purchaser was killed. The ghoulish store kept their "honor roll" of customers killed in the fighting and absolved of their debt. Somehow the soldiers were not especially grateful for this magnanimity. Other topics include the anti-war coffeehouses, gathering places of protesters. We hear about the mimeographed amateur protest magazines spread in secret around the military bases. There is also discussion of fragging--intentional killing--of commanders. During the war there were over half a million incidents of desertion. This massive resistance was a phenomenon entirely new to the American military.
With each form of protest, the film also covers how the military tried to suppress it. Protesters were threatened with decades of imprisonment and frequently were sentenced to years in prison. There was an account of the over-crowded Presidio Stockade. The military's measures, while they seem bad in this context, are probably minimal compared to what most militaries would do to repress revolt. For the most part the military seemed to want to keep a lid on the situation so they would not be discredited in front of the American people.
While most of the protesters who speak are actual veterans, they also include Jane Fonda. She tells briefly of her actions at that time and her experiences with the traveling FTA anti-war show she organized with Donald Sutherland. The documentary gets added dignity by some minimal narration done by Edward Asner (admittedly a personal hero of my own).
Some of the accounts of military brutality, while verbal, are explicit and some viewers may find them disturbing. It should also be remembered that with this as with most political documentaries, the opposition does not get an opportunity to refute the case made.
This documentary is strong stuff with a powerful evocation of a past with strong implications about the present. I rate SIR! NO SIR! a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I finally got to HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J. K. Rowling (ISBN 0-439-35807-8). Each "Harry Potter" book covers one year, starting with Harry at ten years old (if I recall correctly). I'm not sure whether the initial idea was that readers would read the first one at age ten, the next at age eleven, and so on, and I don't remember the earlier books that well, but it does seem that the vocabulary in the fifth book is more advanced than the earlier ones, with words like "frisson" and "acerbity". (amazon.com lists the reading level for all the books at ages 9 through 12, but since that is just a lower threshold, that is not much of a clue.)
Also, I know they claim not to be re-editing the books for American audiences, but in chapter 12, when they are making the potion in Snapes's class, the American edition uses the term "counter-clockwise" rather than "widdershins" (or even "anti- clockwise").
After five books, I am beginning to wonder: if students start when they are ten years old, and we hear about their entire day and class schedule, when do they learn anything like mathematics, reading, or spelling (the orthographic kind, not the hermeneutic)? (I would ask about things like history or geography, but that would be considered "muggle stuff", and a lot of their courses *could* be considered science.) And why do all the wizards celebrate Christmas and Easter?
For reasons too complicated to go in to, I listened to the first two-thirds or so on CD, then finished the book by reading it. The two provided very different experiences--listening forces one to go at the performer's pace, which makes for a more intense experience than quickly skimming over parts. Or possibly it was the content itself, because a lot of this book is considerably "darker" than the earlier books, or even the final part of this book. Listening to descriptions of humiliation and child abuse provides a very different experience than reading about "spell-o- tape" and Quidditch.
Lynne Truss may be an expert on punctuation, but although TALK TO THE HAND (ISBN 1-592-40171-6) is punctuated very well, it is a very uninteresting read. Truss is complaining about the rudeness and lack of consideration in today's society, but since anyone who hasn't been living in a cave knows that people throw litter on the ground, talk about personal details in loud voices on their cell phones, and tell everyone else to "eff off". So what's the point of a book whinging about this? And is the fact that credit companies want you to call them if you are going to another country really an example of rudeness? That is in her chapter "Why Am I the One Doing This?" and while it makes sense to complain when one has to input one's credit card number multiple times on the same call to the credit card company, does Truss really expect the company to call you on a regular basis to see if you are going to another country soon? (I bet she wouldn't like that either.) And she complains that when she orders coffee, she has to choose size, flavor, type of milk, type of sweetener, and so on. Here she has a situation where the shop is trying to be accommodating, and she does not like that either.
THOU SHALT NOT KILL: BIBLICAL MYSTERY STORIES edited by Anne Perry (ISBN 0-786-71575-8) is an anthology of "Biblical mysteries"--some set in Biblical times, some in modern times but paralleling Biblical themes, and some with even more tenuous Biblical connections. It is a mixed bag, with a couple of good stories, but also several predictable ones. The best if the first (as is usually the case): Simon Brett's "Cain Was Innocent", which is set neither in Biblical times nor the present. There is Gillian Linscott's "A Blessing of Frogs", in which the plague in Egypt helps solve a murder. And there are a Sister Fidelma story from Peter Tremayne and a Father Dowling story from Ralph McInerny, which will certainly interest fans of those series. I'm not sure I can recommend buying the trade paperback new, but it is certainly worth reading. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I'm so glad to be out of graduate school. Now I can return to my education. -- Thom Lewis
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