MT VOID 06/23/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 52, Whole Number 1340

MT VOID 06/23/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 52, Whole Number 1340

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/23/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 52, Whole Number 1340

Table of Contents

  El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Lunacon Report Available:

Evelyn's Lunacon report is available at

Inductees to the RHOF Announced (pointer by Mark R. Leeper):

On June 21 Carnegie Mellon announced this year's inductees to the Robot Hall of Fame. The lucky new inductees this year include the ever-popular Maria of METROPOLIS, Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, and David from A.I. Also included in the list were real the toy robot Aibo and the industrial robot Scara. It is heart-warming to see the first three robots make the list in spite of being reality-impaired.

Already the most controversial inductee is Gort. He was triply a dark horse being reality-impaired, of foreign origin, and having a questionable past of having actually threatened a reduction of Earth to cinders. Those differences have apparently been patched up and are now considered past history. In fact some analysts suggest that Gort's induction at the current moment represents a tacit endorsement of his anti-nuclear policies in the light of ineffectual responses to recent events in Iran and North Korea. Officials at Carnegie Mellon could not be reached for comment because I did not have a phone number. It has been noted that previous foreign inductees have at least been in the non-threatening position by being both from a greatly distant galaxy and from a remote period in the past. One previous inductee was from the future is of "mixed" origin.

Controversy extends to other choices. Members of the Dewey Appreciation Society expressed disappointment that their candidate has been overlooked but are optimistic that he will be inducted in 2007. Also there has been some questioning as to the appropriateness of inducting of David. A recount has been suggested on the grounds that his film, A.I., bored the bejeezus out of most of the audience.

A complete list of current and previous inductees may be found at . [-mrl]

[I'll add that the fictional robots inducted, both this year and in the past, have all been from films or television. Somehow, Asimov's great robotic creation, R. Daneel Olivaw, has been completely overlooked. -ecl]

Are We Helping the Wrong Students? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2001 is a program to go in and improve the performance of our schools by setting minimum standards that all the students, including the very slowest have to meet. The schools are accountable for getting every student up to certain standard levels of academic accomplishment. When I first heard about it I thought it was a good idea. Now I am not so sure. I am starting to wonder if putting a lot of our funding into helping the poorest students is really what is best for the country. I want to explore this idea, somewhat by playing Devil's Advocate.

Over the last two years I have been tutoring and teaching mathematics. Some that I am teaching are failing students who want to pass. Some are C-students who want to be B-students. The B-students want to be A-students. I have one student who is young (eleven years old) and bright to whom I am introducing the ideas of more advanced mathematics in much the same way I would have liked to been introduced to them.

There is a whole spectrum of students, of course. There are the bright, the normal, and the slow. Most of the teaching resource gets spread roughly evenly over these groups. What extra resource is available to school systems seems traditionally to have gone to give additional help to the slow. That appears even more true of late with the philosophy of testing students and making sure that all of them get to a certain minimal level. This means concentrating on the poorer students. The normal and the bright are treated almost identically. The philosophy may be that the brighter students can educate themselves if they want to go beyond what is taught. The bright may be put into more advanced classes. But this costs very little in the way of resource since those classes may already being taught for the older students. The fact that students are taking more advanced courses means vacant seats in less advanced courses. That means fewer sections of classes on the lower level have to be taught and this may mostly pay for their seats in the more advanced classes.

The total expense for the brighter students comes in the creating of one or two high-end courses that are mostly for advanced seniors. In my case I was relieved of my high school biology requirement and instead took Algebra II at the same time I took Geometry so that I could catch up to students a year ahead of me in classes that were already scheduled. I vacated a seat in Biology and took up one extra seat in Algebra. As a sophomore I was in with juniors. As a junior I was n with seniors. As a senior I took Advanced Placement Calculus. There was little expense involved to the school. Then the bright students in senior year took AP Calculus. Someone had to teach that class, but fewer teachers were needed on a lower level so it was not much additional expense to the school to offer one or two college-level classes. Our school system's investment in their bright mathematics students was to teach one or two additional courses and maybe to pay for the bus transportation for the math team. I believe that was really about it. One or two teachers volunteered to help with the mathematics club, but I don't think they were paid extra for that.

I was not aware of it at the time, but school system had to put a lot more resource into helping the slow and the troublesome students. You almost would expect that. To paraphrase Tolstoy, the good students all get good grades in much the same way. The problem students are all difficult in different ways. But the lower achievers' frequently were discipline problems also and were not very dedicated to learning.

Putting a lot of the educational resource into the poorer students makes sense in some ways. They seem to be the students who need the most help and helping them is the compassionate thing to do. On the local level that is a reasonable policy. On the global level giving attention to them and nearly neglecting the bright students is disastrous. Other countries do a lot more than we do to nurture their best and brightest students. Much more than we wanted to admit until a few recent press observations we are losing our technological edge to China, Japan, and India. Asia is a rising technological giant and Europe and the United States simply are not. More and more we are keeping the management jobs in this country while outsourcing technical work to Asia.

I suppose it could be argued that we have more management intelligence here, but I think no country has management that on the whole is any better than mediocre when it comes to taking the long view. There is not room here to discuss the question of how American management is being characterized by a general tide of unprofessional behavior, selfishness, greed, dishonesty, and--as with the case of management from companies like Enron--outright criminality. For a while these people in Asia will be working for the managers of American companies. It will not be long before they do not need American management and their domestic corporations will be as successful as ours are. Meanwhile American companies are investing less and less in research, mortgaging the future for near-term profits. Less every year the United States is the place where pure research is done. We just no longer have the pool of talent to do it. And that comes very much out of our unwillingness to do very much for the brightest students. We need to hold onto the technological edge that we are currently squandering. And that means developing and nurturing the most promising students. Next week I will make some suggestions how that might be done. [-mrl]

Captain Marvel (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):

In response to Evelyn’s comments on Captain Marvel in her column in the 06/19/06 issue of the MT VOID, where she says, “the original Captain Marvel takes on both the strength of Hercules and the wisdom of Solomon, while the more recent version acquires the strength of Hercules but *not* the wisdom of Solomon-his wisdom becomes merely an external voice giving advice.,” Charlie Harris writes, “Huh? Does the new Captain Marvel shout "HAZAM!"??” [-csh]

Evelyn responds, "Actually, in DC Comics he still says 'Shazam!', but the Amalgam Comics Captain Marvel says, 'Kree!' Why there are two different super-heroes with the same name remains a mystery to me." [-ecl]

Various Topics (letter of comment by Chris Garcia):

Chris Garcia writes on various topics:

Chris: "I was looking through some of the stuff on and came across MT VOID. I am a film nut and seeing that the opening article was on AFI's latest list forced me to start reading."

Mark: "I consider myself a film nut also. You can see that from All reviews I write show up in the VOID."

Chris: "First off, I love the AFI, I think they're great people and they've worked with me and some of the fests I work for over the years. I think most of the lists they put out are pure crap though (except they did some early ones like 'The Best Film Noirs' that were great but seldom publicized)."

Mark: "I think they just represent a vote of the members.

Chris: "SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was a mess. I will say that the scene with the telegram and no dialogue was great film making, something that I thought Spielberg had forgotten about. It's so simple and wonderfully done. I wasn't much moved by the battle scenes, but that's just me. I must admit that the most recent time I saw it, which soured me on it the most, was right after having sat through THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR about Desmond Doss that really moved me."

Mark: "Well, I think what I liked about RYAN was that we all have read that war is hell, but this film shows you that it is really true. It is intended to shock."

Chris: "I can't quibble with your comments on BREAKING AWAY, GRAPES OF WRATH or MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, though I think there's something in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET to be admired by the younger generation. You can replace BREAKING AWAY with PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, GRAPES OF WRATH with HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and I think the list gets much better."

Mark: "PRIDE OF THE YANKEES does not do much for me. For me the best sports film is THE NATURAL. Number 2 is a long way back."

Chris: "ET is a sham. It's a piece of schmaltz that doesn't deserve the love it received. I'm not sure if there's a SF film that would fit inspirational."

Mark: "ET gets a bad rap. But I think it is a very good kids' film. It is supposed to capture kids' imaginations and then give them an emotional ride. I think there were a lot of adults who got caught up in the story and then got angry when they realized that Spielberg made them feel sorry for a piece of plastic."

Chris: "To be fair to Rocky, it wasn't a great film, but damn if it didn't give theatre-goers of the day a hell of a time. I can remember my Dad telling me that people were reacting to it like it was an actual Ali boxing match. Watching it today, I think there is a certain inspiration to be drawn, but then again, I love boxing."

Mark: "I think I reacted to it like I would an actual Ali boxing match. Each would have me rooting for the experience to end. Sorry, I am pretty much immune to sport-oriented excitement."

Chris: "SCHINDLER'S LIST is one of those movies that I use for comedy all too often."

Mark: "I am not sure I want to know what you mean by that."

Chris: "I hate TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but I can't deny that it's an inspirational film.

Mark: "I like it very much."

Chris: "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE shouldn't be #1."

Mark: "It would not have been for me."

Chris: "There are any number of Westerns that deserve it (HIGH NOON, perhaps?) but I think it should be on the list, just lower."

Mark: "HIGH NOON inspirational? I like the film, but I can't imagine what it should inspire. It is rather bleak and misanthropic."

Chris: "In other comments, I thought LINT was delightful. I do a lot of that fake Non-Fiction stuff myself and LINT did it so well it just made me smile. As a giant film fan, I'm making my run to the local seller to buy ASIMOV'S."

THE LAKE HOUSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A man from 2004 and a woman from 2006 are in mail communication through a magic mailbox outside the same house that each is living in his or her respective year. It could be a good idea, but the fantasy is leaden and refuses to play by the rules it itself set up. So it is not very good as a fantasy and it really does not work as a romance. Alejandro Agresti directs a screenplay by David Auburn based on the Korean film SIWORAE (IL MARE). Rating: +0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

In vampire films there are certain rules defining a vampire's powers and limitations. They can vary from one vampire story to the next, but within a single story the rules must be logical and consistent. Rules are very important in a fantasy film. A world in which just about anything can happen is a world in which nothing that happens much matters. It is hard to have much of an emotional investment in such a fantasy world. It has been noted that fantasy has to make more sense than the real world does. In writing a fantasy story the writer has to know at the beginning what the rules are of this world. It is evident that that was not done with THE LAKE HOUSE and the film suffers badly as a result.

Sandra Bullock plays Chicago doctor Kate Forster who is moving out of the title house in 2006 and leaves mail for the next tenant in the mailbox. (Ironically, no postman ever seems to come near this mailbox in the whole course of the film.) Keanu Reeves plays Alex Wyler, a successful architect who is moving into the house and finds the note. The strange thing is that he is moving in 2004. The mailbox seems to be a sort of time portal. He is at first confused because he knows there had been no previous tenant. In addition, his mail seems to be coming from someone who does not know the correct date. After they meet cute (but weird) they come to be attracted to each other through their correspondence, but can they actually meet? There is a side question of whether Alex can reconcile with his cold and distant father, a world-famous architect.

My problem with the script is that even if you accept the premise much of what you see does not make sense. They seem to have conversations "in real time." Kate and Alex seem to have rapid back and forth conversations, in one case during a tour of Chicago architecture. Much of the tension comes from the question of whether the two can find each other in spite of the two-year delay. It is hard to believe that in this age of easy information a successful doctor cannot find out about a successful architect from the same city. Alex also never seems to realize the possibilities and value of getting information from two years in the future. Kate never tells him about the Indian Ocean Tsunami, for example. Nor does she mention Hurricane Katrina. It is a little hard to believe she would not mention events that important. Even as a doctor pledged to same lives she just says dreamily that the world has not changed much in those two years, but of course it had. Having her so disinterested makes her sound very self-absorbed.

Other little things bothered me about the plot. Probably no restaurant would take a reservation two years in advance. The plot has a lot of coincidence and frequently telegraphs upcoming surprises. The screenplay is by David Auburn, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of PROOF (and who my family assures me is a remote cousin of mine).

This film is being called a reunion of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock who co-starred in SPEED. Given that they have only a few scenes together they do not have much time for screen chemistry. Even when they are together Reeves seems a little remote. Shohreh Aghdashloo, best known for her Oscar-nominated role in THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, is notable as a co-worker of Kate's.

THE LAKE HOUSE is nice and soft and romantic but has no logic or even intelligence whatsoever. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Two more minor complaints: Hollywood scriptwriters seem to know about only a handful of professions. Here the main characters are an architect and a doctor. Movies have lots of doctors and quite a few architects. How about an asphalt layer or an airplane baggage handler? Most professions never show up in films.

Also Kate lives at 1620 Racine. Why are so many film addresses 16-something? In one week I saw three addresses that were in some 1600 block. Sean Connery in the UNTOUCHABLES lived at 1634 Racine, just a few doors down from where Kate would supposedly live. [-mrl]

THE HIDDEN BLADE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In Japan 1861 a minor samurai is torn between his responsibility, his desires, and his morality. With this film Yōji Yamada follows up his TWILIGHT SAMURAI, also set in the mid- 19th Century against the backdrop of the dying order of Shoguns and Samurai. It is a story this story of a man who must choose between his duty and what he thinks is right. The film is less one of bloody martial arts and more a study of a personal conflict in a society at once overly ordered and rapidly changing. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Yōji Yamada's TWILIGHT SAMURAI won a host of awards from the Japanese Academy and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign film. He continues to adapt Shuuhei Fujisawa's stories with another film about conflicting values in a 19th Century Japan being ripped apart by two factions, those wanting to continue with the old Bushido Samurai values and those wanting to modernize the country to survive in the modern world. As one character laments, "Wars are now won by expensive guns." The conflict will be familiar to those who saw the film THE LAST SAMURAI. Yamada's theme is one common in Japanese film, the dissonance between private morality and public duty, particularly in this time of change.

Change was perhaps more frightening in the outwardly well-ordered historical Japan than in any other culture. This was very much a society in which everybody was expected to be in his place and his duty. The greatest virtue was absolute loyalty and obedience to those above in the pecking order. Everybody in the society had to be obedient at a level that we tend to associate only with our military. Perhaps the most poignant scene of THE HIDDEN BLADE has a servant girl telling a samurai that he terrified her when she first saw him. Why? He carried a sword, and being of the samurai class he had the right to use it against her if she displeased him. The samurai is bewildered because though he knew he had that power over her, he also knew that few samurai would ever use that right. This is a story in which loyalty to friends and love is balanced against duty in a culture in which disobedience can be a capital crime.

Munezo Katagiri (played by Masatoshi Nagase) was an expert swordsman as was Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) who learned from the same master swordsman. It was never clear whether Katagiri or Hazama was the better swordsman. It may sound at this point like this will be a standard martial arts plot, but there is more to this story. As the film opens Hazama is being posted to Edo (later to be called Tokyo). Katagiri appears to be not so lucky. He will remain in a backwater town in northeast Japan and his life and his career will stagnate over the next three years. Katagiri would remain loyal to the code of the samurai if he could, but he and the military are being commanded to learn about the European ways of fighting with guns and artillery, a less honorable way of fighting. Katagiri does not really mind staying in the town because he loves his family's servant Kie (Takako Matsu), a beautiful country girl. Sadly, marriage is out of the question with a woman of lower caste. Three years later the beautiful Kie is married to a merchant whose family's abuse is slowly killing Kie. What to do about Kie is the first of several moral decisions he will have to make.

Meanwhile, the local defense forces are getting a crash course in the new techniques of guns and artillery. They are taking to the new methods like a duck takes to stock trading. Word comes that Hazama has fallen in with the Unasaka Clan that opposes the modernization of Japan. (The Unasaka is a fictional clan that also featured prominently in TWILIGHT SAMURAI.) Hazama took part in a political conspiracy against the Shogun, but was caught and brought back to his home village as a prisoner. Local officials begin a witch-hunt to find any of Hazama's friends who might harbor similar sympathies.

American audiences my not recognize how unusual the casting choices are. Masatoshi Nagase is known mostly for comic roles in Japan, particularly the hard-boiled troubleshooter with the humorous name Mike Hama. Takako Matsu is a popular singer and actress whose father was a famous Kabuki actor.

Yamada's film is strong and poignant, though perhaps it will be more so with Japanese audiences who better understand societal pressure. The film is powerful, though it fails a little in the final few scenes. I rate THE HIDDEN BLADE a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

"This is a genre book, a category book if you will; it will go into bookstores and libraries, it will go out of print, but ten or twenty years from now someone will have been reached by this book just as I was reached by similar genre or category hardcover books which were mine to behold a quarter of a century ago at the Flatlands Public Library." [Barry N. Malzberg, Afterword to DARK SINS, DARK DREAMS, October 1976, no ISBN] Read by me June 2006 in a copy checked out from the Red Bank Public Library. As with many books I get through inter-library loan, I am grateful this was not "de-accessioned" even though its complete check-out history seems to be three instances: one in 1987, one in 1996, and now mine. This book is a collection of science fiction crime stories, and was edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. Nowadays there are many collections that could be described as "science fiction crime stories", but almost all of them consist of stories written for those particular anthologies and the overall quality is below this collection, which consists of the best of the genre over a period of many years.

DARWIN FOR BEGINNERS by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon (ISBN 0-679-72511-3) is one of a series that is competition in a way to the "Introducing" series I have previously written about. (And, yes, it is "Borin", not "Boris".) The "Beginners" series is usually somewhat more political, but this volume is less so than others, and it is written by Jonathan Miller, polymath. Miller is a physician, actor, writer, and director, so he understands both the science and the art of presenting it in an entertaining fashion. And Van Loon's illustrations are considerably more elaborate than most of what one finds in the "Introducing" series.

One of the techniques Van Loon uses is to represent the scientific approach is the inclusion in many of the illustrations of a pair of characters: one has (variously) a tartan cape, curved pipe, magnifying glass, deerstalker cap, and aquiline features. The other man has an average British face with a mustache. They are not named anywhere, but they are immediately identifiable.

I do have a small quibble with one illustration: a package sent in 1858 has a stamp on it saying "Malaysia"--it should be "Malaya".

Miller and Van Loon work together to explain why "obvious" theories take so long to be formulated. They compare people looking at the world to people looking at "optical illusions". For example, there is a classic drawing which, when looked at one way is a young woman, another way, an old hag. Or the drawing which is either two silhouettes facing each other, or a goblet. As long as you are used to seeing one of these one way, you may never see it the other way until it is pointed out. And then it seems obvious.

I recommend this book—even if you understand Darwin's theory, the illustrations are fascinating.

IN HIGH PLACES by Harry Turtledove (ISBN 0-765-30696-4) is the third book in the "Crosstime Traffic" series. This is apparently intended as a young adult series. Not only is one of the cataloging categories is "Teenage girls--fiction", but the content seems very toned down. Annette Klein is a seventeen- year-old girl captured by slavers in an alternate world to which her family has traveled as agents of Crosstime Traffic, yet although she is described as pretty, none of the slavers attempt any sexual contact with her, nor does her new master, nor do the overseers in her master's house. (Other girls are called to the master's house, but no details are given, and nothing like this happens to our heroine.) The resolution is definitely a deus ex machina, and the actual alternate history content is about as much (or as little) as one might find in a short story.

Another cataloging category given for IN HIGH PLACES is "Women slaves--fiction", leaving me curious why there is that category and why it is not just "Slaves--fiction". In any case, this ties in with a story Mark noted this week about a subculture based on John Norman’s “Gor” novels; it can be found at [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           If history has proven anything it is 
           that you cannot trust history.  
           Forget it and you will repeat it.  
           Remember it and it will mislead you 
           because nothing happens the same way 
                                          -- Mark Leeper

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