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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/05/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 45, Whole Number 1333
Table of Contents
Sierra Missed (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just noticed this lemon-lime soda I have been drinking is called Sierra Mist. Do they have a lot of citrus trees in the Sierras? [-mrl]
Halvah (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Years ago my group at work wanted to have a diversity meeting. There used to be some good diversity meetings and very blah diversity meetings. The unfunded diversity meetings were usually fairly blah. One or two people in the group would organize a meeting in the hopes that they will look like they are doing something constructive and as a result they would look better at review time. Of course, this assumed that their supervisor agreed with the goal. You never were sure how strongly a supervisor would weigh work not directly applicable to the project. One year at review time my supervisor complained about all the overtime pay I had racked up that year. I explained to him that that was entirely strike duty, an unpleasant task most people try to avoid, but for which I had volunteered to improve my standing in the department. He said no more about it, but my raise that year seemed much diminished, probably by the amount of the overtime pay. After that I always tried to avoid strike duty. When they gave me a form to list my skills to match up with jobs I said that my skill was "forklift operator." (And I was pretty good at that if I do say so myself. When I ate in the cafeteria almost all the food made it to my mouth.) Whoever processed the form knew they could not assign me to running a forklift, but they did not want to take the time to find out where they could assign me. I digress, but the story was too good to pass up a chance to tell.
But without money for a diversity meeting you were really limited in what you could do. When it was my turn I showed the made-for- television-movie SKOKIE which is a pretty good film. An intelligent treatment of the issues that arose from American Nazis choosing to march in a Jewish community. I wish we had had more diversity meetings with films. Someone else arranging a meeting had an ethnic food theme. Everybody in the group was supposed to bring in some food from their own ethnic background. That way the participants funded the diversity meeting themselves--they put the money and effort into making the ethnic dishes--and the company could claim that that they had invested in diversity training. I brought to the meeting a couple of blocks of Halvah. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was a little disappointed that very little of it got eaten, less than half of one block was gone, but then I took home a block and a half of halvah. I didn't mind having extra halvah, I suppose, but that I was surprised that more people didn't want to at least try it.
So what is halvah? Well, everybody agrees that halvah is candy, frequently like nougat. It has roughly the consistency of packed sea sand but when you are eating it that is not unpleasant. It tastes pretty good. That is about all the agreement you can get on halvah. And it is with good reason that there isn't more agreement. Halvah is popular all over the Middle East--Jewish and Arab, Turkey, Greece and as far east as India. That fact by itself would tell you that there are a lot of arguments about halvah because in that part of the world people will happily argue about *anything*. Everybody in that whole geographic expanse believes that this confection comes from their ethnic group alone and nobody else makes it right. Some say that it is made from ground sesame seeds (or perhaps as tahini, which is a related product); some say it is made from semolina. Some sweeten it with honey; some with other sweet things. Some flavor it with chocolate or cover it in chocolate, some add nuts, others say that anything but pure halvah is a desecration. Depending on where you are it is halava, halvah, halawa, halawi, helva, or halwa. They are all variants on the Turkish word for "sweet." I think that it tastes like the center of some candy bar, but I cannot put my finger on which. Perhaps it tastes like the center of a Butterfinger.
At least one site on the web says that halvah goes back at least to the Christian Byzantine empire. (Joyva, a leading brand, claims on their web site that there are references to it that are 5000 years old! That is a real piece of history. I will get back to Joyva later in this article.) It stayed in Turkey under the Muslims took over and worked its way out after that. It came to the United States in 1906 with a Russian (or Ukrainian) immigrant named Nathan Radutzky. I can find no confirmation but I more or less assume he was of Ukrainian-Jewish origin. Radutzky sold halvah in Brooklyn for years and his sons joined him in the business. After the Second World War they invented a brand name for it. They called it Joyvah. Again I am guessing but the Joy was just what it sounds like and the "vah" was taking from the end of "halvah." Later the name of the company was shortened to Joyva. Their logo is a Turk in a turban so my friends and I grew up assuming it was a Turkish company and that halvah was Turkish.
It may not have been the best thing to take to my diversity meeting because some people take some getting used to the consistency. But it is a unique candy. Most of us who like it, really like it. For the rest of you, it is worth a try if you never have had any. [-mrl]
Type Sizes in Comic Books (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Evelyn's comments about font size and type in V FOR VENDETTA in the 04/21/06 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes, "Font? Type? Like the overwhelming majority of comics published before, oh, let's say 1990, V FOR VENDETTA was lettered by hand. Every bit of that text was *written* by somebody. Irregular, yes, but it comes by its irregularity honestly! (Which is not of course to argue that you didn't find it hard to read.)" [-dg]
Evelyn responds, "I suppose I could have said serif and sans- serif lettering, but what better way is there to describe what I called 'font size'?" [-ecl]
David suggests, "'Size of the letters', perhaps? Comic-book lettering is traditionally sans-serif, because the printing technology couldn't handle the very small thin lines. It probably could these days, but the tradition is established. Most (although not all) comics even still use all caps." [-dg]
WAH-WAH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Best known as an actor, Richard E. Grant wrote and directed this drama inspired by his youth in Swaziland. His parents feud and break up, and his alcoholic father remarries. Boredom makes for a small society rife with alcoholism and adultery throughout the British community. It is a story with strong drama, but as tales of painful pasts go it is not particularly new or unusual. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Richard E. Grant is a familiar face from British dramatic productions. Americans may remember him playing Jack Seward in "BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA or as the hero of several made-for- television Scarlet Pimpernel" films. As an actor he always has a certain tension in his acting as if deep down he is never comfortable with himself. With his new film, which he writes and directs but does not appear in, we find out why. WAH-WAH is the thinly-veiled memoir of his days growing up in the British community in Swaziland, most of whom work for the British government, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The adult figures in Ralph Compton's life (Compton is played by Nicholas Hoult) live in luxury and monotony. It is too much luxury and too much monotony, so they get into mischief. Mischief comes there in two ever-popular forms: it comes in bottles and in other people's mates. Ralph's father Harry Compton (Gabriel Byrne) goes in for the former and his mother Lauren Compton (Miranda Richardson) prefers the latter. There is time aplenty and more for these hobbies and Harry is frequently drunk and abusive, Lauren is frequently, well, not home. To nobody's surprise the marriage breaks up and to nobody's surprise Harry marries again. But Ralph's new mother is a surprise, at least to the community. She is brash and plain-spoken Ruby (Emily Watson, not usually noted for brash roles). Much like Debra Winger in SHADOWLANDS she speaks her mind and is a woman of great strength, perhaps strong enough to mend some broken lives.
There is not much we have not seen here before. The adult community is reminiscent of WHITE MISCHIEF with some ICE STORM thrown in. They try to keep busy, when they are not singing old World War II songs, by putting on a local production of CAMELOT, ironically a play that is about infidelity and the damage it causes, and it is the prefect mirror for the community. When Grant wrote the film he did not whitewash Ralph as being purely blameless. Ralph also has some strong character flaws. The film is not really licking his wounds, but is more a tribute to his stepmother who rescued him from the weakness of his biological parents.
Hoult plays the role well. Grant gave him an unusual piece of business. Rather than expressing anger, particularly when being used as a pawn by his feuding parents, he has a gesture that seems silently to mimic a lion's roar. Everybody sees this and nobody ever comments on it. I wonder it if really was a habit of Grant as a child.
Grant could have played up the natural beauty of the Swaziland settings, but seems to do very little of that. That is probably mostly because that is not the point of the film. But a director who is an outsider to this part of the world might have been so struck by the natural beauty that it would become a character of the film. Grant grew up taking the look of the area for granted and does not seem to be so tempted.
The title, if you were wondering, comes from the cutesy upper-class slang that the Brits in Swaziland used. It is all rather a sticky wicket, but only Ruby will say that it all sounds like Wah-Wah-Wah. What is here is heartfelt, but not really new. I rate WAH-WAH a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I will say something about the Hugo-nominated novels, although I am sure Joe Karpierz will provide fuller (and no doubt differing) reviews of them.
In 1959 was STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A. Heinlein. In 1975 was THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman. And now in 2005 we have OLD MAN'S WAR by John Scalzi (ISBN 0-765-30940-8). Heinlein postulated a world in which military service was a prerequisite for a life of citizenship. Scalzi postulates a world in which a life of citizenship was a prerequisite for military service. Heinlein (a veteran of World War II, but not of combat) presents the war in STARSHIP TROOPERS as being the right thing to do--in fact, he does not even seem to consider that war might be a bad thing. Haldeman (a combat veteran of Vietnam) presents the war in THE FOREVER WAR as a bad thing. According to Matthew Appleton's review in "The New York Review of Science Fiction", Scalzi has not read THE FOREVER WAR. However, he presents a view somewhere between the two: wars may be bad, but they may be necessary. (The romance in OLD MAN'S WAR is more reminiscent of Haldeman than of Heinlein, though.) The writing style is straightforward (the phrase "workmanlike Campbellian prose" comes to mind), and in general that is a classic military science fiction novel that--except for the 2005 sensibilities--could have been written fifty years ago. (I mean this as a compliment.) I'm not telling you any of the details of the book, because how the military works, or how the war goes, is something best left to Scalzi to unfold. But it is certainly a worthy Hugo nominee.
ACCELERANDO by Charles Stross (ISBN 0-441-01284-1) is what is often called a fix-up novel: it is composed of nine parts which previously appeared as separate novelettes and novellas. What is more, four of them ("Lobsters", "Halo", "Nightfall", and "Elector") have previously been nominated for Hugos. I cannot fault the Hugo administrator for deciding that since the novel got enough nominations to place in the top five it should be allowed on the ballot, but my personal opinion is that this constitutes "double-dipping" and so my Hugo vote will reflect this rather than my opinion of the novel itself. I found the book itself more readable in book form than in the magazines, because the type face and spacing was more readable, and so I rated the section "Lobsters", for example, higher than I did when I read it for the 2002 balloting. But Stross's style is still very dense and slow-going, and the "novel" seems more a series of stories than a novel. (Then again, that was true of the original Asimov "Foundation" trilogy books.)
In SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson (ISBN 0-765-30938-6), the stars don't go out slowly, one by one--one instant they are there and the next they are not. The moon is also gone, but the sun apparently is still there (though Wilson erroneously has the *western* horizon growing light the next morning--or maybe things are different in Canada). Soon we discover--SLIGHT SPOILERS-- that Earth has been put into a stasis field with an artificial sun, and although no one can see it, the aging of the solar system continues and will destroy Earth in about forty or fifty years, Earthtime. What exactly has happened, why it has happened, and what Earth's reaction to it is form the basis of Wilson's book. Great cosmological mysteries, human reaction to change--what more could one ask for? I have recommended all of Wilson's novels up to now, so it should not surprise you that I recommend this as well.
There were two more nominees. However, although I started LEARNING THE WORLD: A SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE by Ken MacLeod (ISBN 0- 765-31331-6), I could not get interested in it, and gave up after about fifty pages. The same was even more true for A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R. R. Martin (ISBN 0-553-80150-3), which has the additional problem of being the fourth (and apparently not last) in a fantasy series.
My vote: Scalzi, Wilson, no award, Stross, MacLeod, Martin. The Scalzi and the Wilson are neck-and-neck, though, and the Stross ranks as highly as it does because even with my misgivings about "double-dipping", I would rather see the Hugo go to a work I thought was good rather than to one I did not like. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life. -- Sandra Carey
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