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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/26/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 48, Whole Number 1336
Table of Contents
Delightful Page of Photoshop for Fans of Fine Art and Horror Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Scroll down and enjoy. [-mrl]
Rational Dualism (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One form of faith is the willingness to hold two mutually contradictory ideas and believe both fervently. For example, we were hearing a news item that there was a poll on whether people believe that pets will go to heaven. Now I think that this just shows the ignorance of people that this discussion should even take place. First of all it should be obvious to any rational mind that heaven is only a metaphor. Heaven is not a real place. It is a philosophical construct. And it should be equally obvious that of course pets will be allowed in. [-mrl]
The Real James Bond (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In a recent conversation I referred to James Bond as a super- hero, at least in the films. Not everybody agrees with me that Bond is a super-hero. He is supposed to be just very proficient at doing whatever he does. It has been a while since I have read the books. I am not sure what I say here applies to the books, but in the films I think that Bond is a super-hero and that his powers are luck and coincidence. I am not just talking about at cards. Though of course he almost never loses at cards. (He lost only once and that was to make a joke on "unlucky at cards, lucky in love.")
Also, his enemies are surprisingly stupid and that too is part of his power and his luck. Let's take the most popular of the James Bond films GOLDFINGER. The villain is planning a huge coup against the West but Bond gets involved with him just to find out why some poor sucker keeps losing at gin rummy. What are the chances?
Later Goldfinger has a laser ready to cut Bond in half from his crotch up. What saves Bond? He happened to have heard the words "Operation Grand Slam" by spying at the right place at the right time, a location and time he could not have possibly known in advance. So what happens? Goldfinger spares him to find out what he knows and then forgets to interrogate him. Bond escapes from his cell and what does he stumble into but Goldfinger telling a bunch of hoods all about the Fort Knox job (and then killing them for reasons never explained)? Again it is sheer luck. It seems contrived to give Bond the plot.
Now you would the writers would say this is getting a little hard to take. You would think they would be saying they were hitting luck and coincidence just a little too hard. So how does the next film start? Bond goes to a health farm and there he just happens to run into someone involved in a plot to steal a nuclear bomb from NATO and use it to extort huge sums of money on a threat of destroying Miami. He is in the right place at the right time. Things just seem to fall into his lap the way women do.
What happened at the end of DR. NO? He flicks the right switch or something and without even realizing he is doing it he manages to blow up Dr. No's island. I mean, c'mon.
Ever notice the gadget thing. He needs just the set of special weapons Q has given him. Whatever Q has given him is just what he needs. He never needs the tools that Q gave him the last film.
Now admittedly Bond uses some skill also. (He only twice in the films uses his license to kill when it was not a matter of self-defense, speaking of use.) But he does use some skill. Well, yes, he does--too much in fact. He skis like a world champion, shoots skeet like he has been doing it all his life, etc., etc., etc. And I suppose luck favors the prepared mind. Still, it doesn't just favor him, it gives the game away to him.
These films have become classics of sorts, but if you really look at them the plots are about as believable as children's television.
Well, you know there is a reason for that similarity to children's television. At one point early in his career Ian Fleming really did want to write a children's television show. This was in the post-war years when he had spent some time in British Intelligence but now was at loose ends and was not sure what to do with his life. It struck Fleming he could write a children's TV series. He wrote a script for it. The series was to be called Captain Jamaica. Captain Jamaica was to live in Jamaica, where Fleming wanted to live. This way he could make living in Jamaica part of his work. Captain Jamaica would fight evildoers who come to Jamaica. He wrote (I believe) one half- hour script but could not sell anybody on the idea. Well, it seems a little cornball, when you think about it. He had this dynamite story in which his comic book hero fought a comic book villain. The name of the villain was Dr. No. (This anecdote is repeated from an article several years ago in “Variety”.)
Obviously what he did was to take Captain Jamaica and wrote a bunch of stories sold not on the plot value really but on the sophistication of the character. He was writing in post-war Britain where it was still taking a while for the country to get past rationing and onto its feet. People wanted to read about this super-hero who lucked his way out of situations the way that other children's heroes did. And who lived in luxury. And because they were nominally no longer children's stories he could put in an element of sex. He decided that instead of the flamboyant name of Captain Jamaica he would give the character a tasteful and bland name. If you are a Bond fan you probably have heard that he found the name James Bond on a birding book.
He wrote a few novels about this character and had moderate success. In the United States John F. Kennedy liked to read them to relax and mentioned this to the press. And that was that.
In any case astounding luck makes for bad fiction and good non- fiction. If you want to read about heroes who also had amazingly good luck, read about the Battle of Midway. [-mrl]
Men and Clothing (letter of comment by Pete Brady):
In response to Mark’s article on men and clothing in 05/12/06, Pete Brady writes, “Mark, you evidently were never exposed to the old IBM culture. In the mid ‘60s, an IBM friend of mine had a party in his apartment. There may have been 15 men and 15 women present. Almost all the men worked at IBM (I was at Bell Labs then). The party split up into two basic groups: men and women. The women talked about women things, households, maybe even books, whatever. The exclusive topic of conversation among the men, for almost the whole evening, was clothing. Where they bought it, how much it cost, the style, etc. And the real joke about this was that the IBM management at the time was pretty rigid about what men wore to work. Suits, plain and dark- colored. No sport jackets. So, what was there to talk about? I had nothing to say on that topic, and pretty much still don't have anything to say. [-ptb]
Mark replies, “In my experience real men would more willingly eat quiche than talk about clothes. But in the business culture you do what you have to in order to succeed. These are the people who also get excited about really good embossed business cards.” [-mrl]
OLD MAN'S WAR by John Scalzi (copyright 2005, Tor, $12.95, 320pp, ISBN 0-765-31524-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
OLD MAN'S WAR is John Scalzi's first SF book, and like Charles Stross and others before him he winds up with a Hugo nomination the first time out. It's a well-deserved nomination.
The book's title is derived from the fact that the Colonial Defense Forces only take recruits that are seventy-five years old back on Earth. Let me back up a minute. Humanity is new to the space colonization game. There are races and species out there that are older and more experienced at it, and are ruthless and brutal. The name of the game outside the Solar System is survival. War for colonial planets are constant, and those that aren't up to the task are soon destroyed.
The Colonial Defense Forces, or CDF, exist for the sole purpose of aiding humanity in its effort to colonize the galaxy. As I said, they take only take seventy-five-year-old recruits. The catch is that once you enlist, you can never go back. Your citizenship on Earth is revoked, you no longer have any personal possessions, and, well, you're considered dead. You have an initial two year term which can be extended to ten, after which you can choose to be a colonist or you can re-enlist--if you live that long. But how does a seventy-five-year-old human fight a war? They don't. They are rebuilt, using their original genetic makeup as a starter set. CDF soldiers are essentially the super soldier that we've all read about throughout the years in SF and comics. And they need to be, given what they are up against.
So, OLD MAN'S WAR is the story of John Perry, seventy-five-year- old widower who enlisted with his wife ten years prior to the beginning of our story. The thing is, his wife died, leaving him with a hole in his life. So, he visited her grave and went to become a soldier.
This is a great romp of a novel. It's funny, entertaining, and fast moving. It's told in three parts. The first describes John's enlistment and basic training, and is the funniest portion of the book; the second delves into the war itself, recounting various battles and encounters with gruesome and not so gruesome aliens; the third details John's exploits while aiding the Ghost Brigade, a CDF Special Forces unit whose members are more souped up even than standard issue CDF soldiers. The novel has a very nice beginning, middle and end, and the end nicely wraps things up into a neat standalone novel--even though Scalzi's next book is called the Ghost Brigades. The book is touted as being in the style of Robert Heinlein, and I guess it is, at that.
OLD MAN'S WAR is a terrific first novel and a great story. If Scalzi continues to write this way, he's got a great future in front of him. [-jak]
THE NEW WORLD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Terrence Malick writes and directs the classic story of John Smith and Mataoaka (nicknamed Pocahontas) and later John Rolfe. Malick's script reinforces some of the unlikely myths like Mataoaka's romance with John Smith and Mataoaka dramatically risking her life to save Smith's life. But like most Malick films it is also a finely painted portrait showing the smallness of man in nature. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
When Terrence Malick releases a new film it is a major event. He is a very private person who directs films of a sort of haunting beauty in which perhaps the most important character is usually nature. In his films one has the feeling that humans are interlopers in nature. His best known films to date have been BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN, and THE THIN RED LINE. Oddly enough, his story here had been done not long before (well, sort of) as a Disney animated musical. His story is the relationship between John Smith and Mataoaka. The latter had a nickname of Pocahontas which means wild or spoiled child. Historians tell us that Smith and Mataoka were probably never romantically linked. When they met Smith was 28 and Mataoka was 11. In 1607 the English settlers who colonized this part of what would be Virginia were even less tolerant as today we would be of a relationship between a 28-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl. Did Mataoka dramatically risk her life to save John Smith? If so nobody noted it at the time. Many years later John Smith told three different such stories, none ever substantiated.
The film opens to the Rhine music that begins Wagner's “Der Ring Des Nibelungen”. This music starts so quiet it is nearly imperceptible and it builds and grows and compels the listener. While we hear this music we see the landing of ships from England and their being discovered by the native population on the shore. John Smith (Colin Farrell) arrives in chains and is sentenced to be hanged for insubordination. He is however pardoned because he is too valuable as an explorer. In specific, the English government wants him to look for an easy route to bypass the Americas and sail to the Pacific. But first Smith becomes an emissary to the Algonquians. He is taken with the sheer alien nature of the local population. And they are really alien. Smith is particularly taken with the unnamed woman whom we know as Mataoka or Pocahontas. For a long time the English and the native Americans live amicably together, with the Algonquians even saving the colony. Then the English refuse to leave and relations sour.
The script's sympathetic treatment of the native population as a part of nature is reminiscent of Malick's treatment of the natives in THE THIN RED LINE. The story slowly but the visuals of the beauty of nature are stunning and give the film an ethereal quality. Malick always has strong sense of nature in his film and the moods of nature become the mood of the film. The actors speak historically believable dialog. We leave nature only for scenes set in London, scenes unusual for Malick. His scripts are not compelling and usually move at what is today a very slow rate, but his visuals always are hypnotic and create the texture of the film. One almost has the feeling of visiting the time and place of the setting.
Q'orianka Kilcher stands as the center of the as the quiet and enigmatic Mataoka, but the film has an impressive cast including Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, David Thewlis, and Wes Studi. Algonquians are shown being as strange and alien as any Native Americans are in any film I can remember, but they are always treated respectfully and in a visually beautiful way.
This is a strong, mesmerizing, and authentic-feeling view of a time and place lost to history. Malick's pacing is a taste I have not quite acquired and his history has some faults. But the film is a memorable experience for anyone with a healthy curiosity about the feeling of history. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently read THE GOSPEL PROBE by Myron Curtis (ISBN 0-595-36327-X), published by iUniverse. iUniverse publishes books that cannot find other publishers; it is what used to be called a "vanity press" (though I am sure they would protest the term). The book was sent to me as an alternate history, and there is indeed an alternate history aspect (which I will not reveal here). But it is minimal, and--the book is mostly a time travel story of representatives from what is apparently the Roman Catholic Church in the future going back to 30 C.E. to check on the accuracy of the Gospels (and others trying to stop them, etc.). It then also has a secret history aspect at the end. I found the plotting disjointed, but it is also technically poorly written. It is full of typographical errors ("Ok" for "OK" or "Okay" [page 8]), spelling errors and/or wrong homophones ("effect" where "affect" is meant [page 37], or "in a lighter vain" [page 53]), and just bad writing. For example, Curtis defines acronyms *within* direct speech, e.g.:
"You must understand ...," said the secretary. "If we make no effort to satisfy the Lobby for Judeo-Christian Traditions (LJCT) which is pressuring the council, ...." [page 18]
He also coins the name "Palistisraelia", where "Palestisraelia" is more likely (if either could be considered likely!). And he gives long Latin or Italian names for committees, objects, and such, immediately translates them, and then never uses the Latin or Italian again.
It did make me realize that however bad I think proofreading as become in major publishers' books, it is close to non-existent in publishers like iUniverse.
While we were on vacation in Hawai`i, we bought a copy of PEARL HARBOR IN THE MOVIES by Ed Rampell and Luis J. Reyes (ISBN 1-56647-506-6). The subject matter is of interest, and the authors' opinions on the accuracy and subtexts of the movies worth reading. But the research and (again) the proofreading is so bad . . . (and the publisher, while not a major, is not a vanity press either).
For example, the book does not mention at all the Takei "Twilight Zone" ("The Encounter"), but does include such peripheral films as RADIO DAYS. They use the term "AJAs" without defining it (I eventually realized it stood for "Americans of Japanese Ancestry"). It has awkward juxtaposition of sentences, which sometimes make no sense at all. Of the filming of WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY, they say, "Filmed mostly on location on Kaua`i, the company then moved to Pearl Harbor for some location scenes, to find the harbor full of the necessary Navy craft. The fleet, which had been there the entire company was on Kauai [sic], had sailed out the night before they arrived in Pearl Harbor." [page 92] Are they saying that the fleet had been in Pearl Harbor, but left the night before the film crew arrived? But then the harbor would not have been full of Navy craft. Are they saying the fleet had been in Kaua`i, but had sailed to Pearl Harbor? But there is no place at Kaua`i for the fleet to be.
They write "American Movies Classic" [pg. xxi] or "American Movies Classics" [pg. 2], when the correct name is "American Movie Classics". They fail to capitalize "Nazi" [pg. 3]. And a particularly irritating gaffe is that the list of video sources at the end is missing all titles starting with 'J' through 'L'.
On page 51, Rampell and Reyes say, "Twenty-plus years after PEARL, there is no Holly Nagata." But it is not until page 103 that one reads about the mini-series PEARL and its character Holly Nagata, meaning one is completely baffled by this sentence for fifty pages.
You can tell this book was written pre-9/11. Rampell and Reyes talk about Pearl Harbor and President Kennedy's assassination as defining moments, and then says, "Perhaps succeeding generations mark their life calendars by the untimely death of rock stars like Elvis or John Lennon. Or might the events be the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the O. J. Simpson trial or the turn of the century? The immediacy and rapture of a nation gripped in a sense of loss by life-changing events has not happened in several generations." Well, now we know what at least one generation will use to mark their life calendars.
Even with my reservations about the book, however, it is the only source I know of on the subject, and Rampell and Reyes's analyses of the accuracy of the films, and of social attitudes shown in and by the films, makes it worthwhile for those interested in those aspects. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I exist between the superficial security adopted by the mainstream and the grave reality of the outer fringes. I do not fit into either category, but I am their mediator. -- Eli Khamrov
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