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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/12/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 46, Whole Number 1334
Table of Contents
Clothes Don't Make Any Man I Know (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was listening to the play "The Sisters Rosensweig" and one of the characters is all excited about geting a new clothing outfit, in pink yet. I think this is a difference in men and women, this excitement in clothes. I don't think guys get that. On a scale of one to ten the most exciting clotes I could get excite me to a level of about two. Well . . . if I could get a uniform from FORBIDDEN PLANET, that might be up around four. Most clothing is no higher than a two. [-mrl]
Where is Curiosity Today? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On a weekly basis I help some local high school students with mathematics and was recently talking to one about mathematics as a study. He told me that he could see very little reason to like mathematics. To him it was just a tool, or worse, an obstacle. I told him that there was something wonderful about mathematics. When you prove something in mathematics you know that it is true (well, not actually true, but it follows from some axioms you accept). There is a sort of durability to what you discover. There is a universal quality to it. When you prove to yourself that the sum of two consecutive integers is never divisible by two, but the sum of three consecutive integers is always divisible by three, that will always be true, any time in your life, all over the universe. That is a minor thing (one he could understand) but he thought it was very strange that I was impressed with this fact. He looked at me with a half-smile like I was a little silly on the subject. Well, perhaps those were not the most profound facts in mathematics, but they still had the same permanence.
"What good is it?" he asked. "It is good to know." "What is it good for?" "What does it have to be good for?" "Why would I want to know it if it isn't useful?" "Maybe you want to know it. Not one of your appetites, but you yourself."
I guess that was an allusion. I expressed it that way because that is how Thomas More expressed it in the film A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. Norfolk is trying to convince More to give in to the King's demands. "I will not give in, because I oppose it. Not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites, but I do, I. Is there, in the midst of all this muscle, no sinew that serves no appetite of Norfolk's, but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!"
What seems to be missing today from students is a sense of wonder and a curiosity about the universe. What is worse there is a sense of cynicism that anyone could have such a sense of wonder. Most sciences have within them some beauty and amazement. There are questions that are incredibly intriguing. I have grown up knowing that the universe is expanding. I am used to that and it makes sense. You could explain that with Newton's physics. But the fact that it is speeding up and not slowing down in its expansion makes no sense. So it is intriguing. I want to know not because I can turn it into money and get a bigger television. I won't be able to buy more food with the knowledge. It won't make gasoline cheaper (well, maybe it could at some point). But I want to know because I want to know. Mathematics has a lot more unanswered and intriguing questions. But fewer and fewer young people have a curiosity and a sense of wonder. Science fiction is suffering the same fate. It is becoming like opera, an art form predominantly attracting older people. When I first started going to science fiction conventions most people going were roughly my age. Now when I go to science fiction conventions most people going are still roughly my age. They aren't a whole lot younger. Of course whether current science fiction really does appeal to a sense of wonder is another question.
But there is not much imagination left in the United States today. Also there is not much left to the imagination. That is probably a related trend. There is not as much book reading. That has given way to visual media of film, television, and PC oftware where the visual images are handed to the user. It is a frightening thought that films are more visual now than they were in the silent era. At first that seems impossible. After all, silent films were 100% visual. But a film like BATMAN BEGINS has far more that is visual than anything made in the silent era. The technology of conveying imaginative images has gotten so good that the consumer has to provide much less. We let a few creative people do our imagining for us. Perhaps the future will go to those countries where the people have less imagination presented to them and more they have to create for themselves. [-mrl]
CRAZY LIKE A FOX (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An impoverished Virginia gentleman farmer finds his historic property sold from under him and he begins a Quixotic war to get it back. The rich characters are more the attraction than the plot. The main character is nor really in the right and that point is more controversial than intended. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
We hear a lot about clashes of cultures these days. This film is about a clash of a different set of cultures. CRAZY LIKE A FOX pits the old rural families of Virginia who trace their origins back to revolutionary times against younger success-oriented yuppies with less of a taste for tradition.
CRAZY LIKE A FOX is Richard Squires's comedy-drama with a focus on character more common in British comedies than in American ones. Roger Rees plays Nat Banks, a gentleman farmer who has had some financial reverses. Now the state has put up for sale Greenwood, his dilapidated but historic mansion and the large and beautiful estate it is built on. Nat remains in denial about the seriousness of his financial problems. As his behavior becomes more and more eccentric his wife Amy (Mary McDonnell of GRAND CANYON and PASSION FISH), a patient and straightforward woman, is unable to bring him to reality.
Nat refuses to cooperate with the sale of the property and suspects the motives of the two buyers, a nice-seeming couple who claim they want to make only minimal changes to the property. Nat reacts by dressing in a Confederate uniform and brandishing a sword while spouting Shakespeare. He will not leave the estate he feels so much a part of. While his wife and children move to the nearby town, he takes up residence in a cave on the property and begins living off the land like his hero Stonewall Jackson.
Richard Squires's script is somewhere between comedy and drama. It rarely gives in to broad comedy, concentrating instead on well-defined characters and on emotions. The characters are fictional but based on real people. The historical details that are salted into the script are also authentic. The reaction of the critics to the film may well have been an education for Squires himself. He professes not to understand why some viewers are siding against Nat. The legal battle will resolve itself into a conflict between a close association of the local gentry and the outsiders who have the law on their side. Who is right in the conflict is less clear-cut than Squires realizes. If it is difficult to side with the mercenary strangers, it may also be difficult to choose the priggish gentry who band together to fight illegally for one of their own. This is becomes obvious when he endangers the lives of some of the very people who are standing with him. Meanwhile the viewers can compare the eccentricity of Southerners and Southern law in Virginia with those in Georgia as seen in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.
Roger Rees is actually a British actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company who is perhaps best known as the title character in that company's production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby", a 510-minute miniseries that ran on American television in 1982. He is a little hard to recognize behind a short growth of beard and an affected Virgina accent that is occasionally unconvincing.
CRAZY LIKE A FOX uses its beautiful Virginia setting, well filmed, to underscore the value of this land. But not all the film works just as Squires expects. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week, I commented on the Hugo-nominated novels. Now it is time to start commenting on the short fiction nominees. I will begin with the novellas.
"Burn" by James Patrick Kelly (ISBN 1-892-39127-9) was yet another Hugo nominee that I gave up on. There was just something about the writing style that I found impenetrable.
Last year Kelly Link won the Hugo for novelette for "The Faery Handbag", a story that I found okay, but nothing special. This year she has a nominated novella, "Magic for Beginners" (in MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS, ISBN 0-1560-3187-6; also F&SF Sep 2005), and my reaction is about the same. Jeremy, Elizabeth, and Karl are friends who watch a mysterious television show which runs at random times on random channels, yet somehow they always know when it is on. Then Jeremy's mother inherits a wedding chapel and a phone booth in Las Vegas, and Jeremy starts getting strange communications from the phone booth which may or may not be connected to the show. It seemed fairly pointless and uninvolving to me.
[The plot seems inspired by a Japanese horror film. -mrl]
"The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald (ASIMOV'S Jun 2005) is set on the near-future Indian subcontinent. India has splintered into several nations, all jockeying for position and power. The narrator begins as a goddess, chosen after a series of spiritual tests, but this is a position that will end after a few years, not with her death, but with puberty. She then finds herself trying to become a normal person again, but having been a goddess creates certain drawbacks. I really enjoyed this, both for the story, and for the milieu. (In general, I recommend McDonald's work. I have not had a chance yet to read his Hugo-nominated novel from 2004, RIVER OF GODS, but I am looking forward to it.)
"Identity Theft" by Robert J. Sawyer (in DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS, edited by Mike Resnick, ISBN 1-582-88164-2) is a hard-boiled science fiction mystery story in the vein of Isaac Asimov (on the SF end) and Raymond Chandler (on the hard-boiled end). (Sawyer has written at least one science fiction mystery story before, ILLEGAL ALIEN.) Alexander Lomax (the first-person narrator) is a detective on Mars hired to find the missing husband of his new client, both of whom are "transfers"--people whose consciousnesses have been transferred to mechanical bodies. As usual, Sawyer deals with a lot of issues: the nature of identity, consciousness and individuality, and of course the mystery itself. There do seem to be a couple of flaws in the reasoning, though, which detract from the story. (At one point Lomax says that a certain murder must have been committed, but later we discover that this is not true. Since his reasoning is part of what is given to the reader as explanation, it seems unfair for it to turn out to be false.)
I already reviewed "Inside Job" by Connie Willis (ISBN 1-596-06024-7; also ASIMOV'S Jan 2005) in the 03/03/06 issue of the MT VOID. I did, however, fail to note that it had been published in ASIMOV'S as well as by a small press in a limited edition. And now it is available on-line (at least temporarily to Hugo voters), as are all the other short fiction nominees.
My vote: McDonald, Willis, Sawyer, no award, Link, Kelly [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If you don't ask why this? Often enough, somebody will ask why you? -- Tom Hirshfield
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