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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/11/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 6, Whole Number 1347
Table of Contents
George R. R. Martin Cartoon:
Unpublished Superman Story:
People interested in Superman might be interested in this piece
published this week at
"'The K-Metal from Krypton' is one of the most important 'lost' stories by the original creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Written and drawn in 1940, but never published, the story would have vastly altered much of the Superman mythos for the next 65 years. Aside from the early introduction of Kryptonite, the issue would have disclosed Superman's secret identity to Lois Lane, leading to a completely different relationship in which the two worked together as a team. Thanks to the work of readers and fans, including writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross, original art and scripts are slowly being recovered, and the entire issue is being reproduced online, with full color treatment and missing pages being replicated in Shuster's original drawing style."
The Davis House (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn has been worried as to the post-Katrina state of the Jefferson Davis House in near Biloxi, Mississippi. I could assure her that there were people trying to return things to exactly the way they were when Davis lived there. Fortunately, the United States Constitution seems to keep getting in the way. [-mrl]
Thoughts on the War with Terrorism (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been saying in my writings things like if we are fighting a global insurgency, that is a very dangerous thing. I have said that we are fighting a decentralized enemy and that it hard to destroy for the same reasons the Internet is hard to destroy. It can get around any loss. Canada has destroyed one independent cell not long ago. It has had little effect on any others that are in Canada or the United States or Britain. Now Britain almost had another disaster. Eliminating one cell does very little to bring down the network. We are fighting a decentralized enemy and there is no way to do that, be the enemy crabgrass or religious zealots. These are all abstract ways of saying that if our goal is to stop this sort of thing from happening, we are probably going to fail. Friends have taken me to task because what I call failing is not what they call it. I won't push the point, but I think we are still at least the underdog and are unlikely to win any sort of victory.
I fully expect that we will fail to achieve a state that is satisfactory and stable. Let us do some mathematics. There are, after all, 1,200,000,000 Muslims in the world today. Let us say that one in a thousand is a Jihadist. Further say that only one in a hundred of those is dedicated enough to commit violent acts. That is 12,000 dangerous warriors alive at one time. If this were an organized army we were meeting on a battlefield that would not be a dangerous number. It does not take a lot of committed people to pull off a dangerous attack. I am guessing at a number here, but suppose it took 100 people to execute the September 11 plan. That is not very many out of 12,000. Canada estimated a lot fewer than that were involved in their incident.
Continual war is a breed of losing. It will slowly wither away our standard of living. See how difficult it is to travel these days. It is a lose-lose situation if both sides are pulled into perpetual warfare. Look at how much our economy, our life style, our freedoms have changed because of what a small team did in 2001. Really what I am saying is that I don't think we can achieve a situation that is acceptable and stable.
Conflicts end only when you reach a point of stability.
Even the latter was not entirely satisfying to either side and that conflict never officially ended.
After each of these there is a point of stability where neither side can further its cause by more fighting. Without such a point of stability the fight will continue forever.
What would be a stable end to the conflict with radical Islam?
Even if we were successful beyond our wildest dreams in promoting Democracy in the Middle East, there would still be a radical core convinced they are working Allah's Will and are improving their lot in Paradise by continuing the fight. The enemy is networking in ways that were not possible before the Internet and reinforcing each other's resolve. It is unlikely they will change their minds and decide to go with the status quo. They will have a broad base of people who agree with them even if the much of that base does not want personally to be combatants. There will be enough who find combating Allah's enemies to be appealing. They are decentralized and distributed in a generally sympathetic population. There is around them supporting background populations who think the zealots are extreme, but they are actually right. (The relationship is much like that that conservative and reform Jews have with the super-Orthodox. We may not agree with their methods but we have some sympathy for them.) That means that destroying the Jihadists current strongest voices will only breed more zealots from the supporting population to replace them. These supporters are people who in their hearts believe their cause is right and just. There is no way to remove the militant nucleus, so conflict will continue while both they exist and we do.
The real source of the power of the enemy we face is the teaching by minor religious leaders that Allah really hates the West. Particularly he hates the United States and he hates Jews. They do what they do because they have been told and they think it will please Allah. They think they are doing the right thing. That is a religious belief. It may also give them a feeling of power. But there is no way to stop their teaching and exercising this power.
In the past when there have been such conflicts, such as the Mahdist Revolt, the conflict has cooled down. Once the Mahdi was gone the conflict continued on but tapered off. His followers slowly lost their resolve, or at least their inspiration. That happened largely because they were isolated and without communication technology. Today Muslims all over the world would follow their actions and would be energized by the news of the revolt as they were roused by the 9/11 attacks. And in turn the Mahdists would be energized by their widespread support. One no longer needs a Mahdi to lead them once they get going. Communications and connectivity can take his place.
To be in a position of power the enemy does not have to appear to have more muscle. They just have to arrange to be widespread, dedicated, and intractable to remove. Fighting an enemy like that will not be quick. The outlook at the most optimistic is for protracted conflict, but unfortunately the age we live in is against us again. We now have the technology to eliminate protracted conflicts. Where technology is available conflicts do not protract; they escalate with more powerful technological threats. That was how the Pacific War ended. Arguably that was how the Cold War ended. And those wars set a precedent. Those conflicts ended with weapons threats. It showed the world how it is done.
There are ways to limit the spread of weapons technology, but it is expensive and difficult. The resolve is just not there worldwide. We are not doing what has to be done, and the technology is reaching hands that will use it for diplomatic advantage. As Hezbollah gets more powerful missiles they will use them. Iran is threatening to get nuclear weapons. If diplomatic advantage does not fully meet their ends, the holders of those weapons will probably actually use the technology. That may take more than the 20-zealot enclaves to do if the weapons are nuclear. If they are biological or chemical it may be a small group that can do it. But there are entire countries that are becoming masters of some pretty sophisticated weapons and probably have the resolve.
Our life style has not been greatly affected in this country as yet and it is easy not to think about the issues. We have a feeling of power. But I think that we are nonetheless losing the fight and the most difficult challenges are still ahead of us. [-mrl]
THE DESCENT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Seemingly expanded from some horrific images from THE HOBBIT, THE DESCENT is a genuinely suspenseful adventure and horror film. Some women get lost in an unexplored cave and run into man-eating cave dwellers. But the scariest monster is the cave itself. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Juno (played by Natalie Mendoza) is the leader of a close-knit group of six women who go on sports adventures together. If there is a little risk involved, so much the better. They love to flirt a bit with death to feel really alive. A year earlier Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) lost her husband and daughter in a horrific road accident in Scotland that nearly took her life also. She has taken a year to recover and her dreams are still filled with nightmarish images, many taken from her real world. Now she has recovered--mostly--and the women are going to the United States to go spelunking (cave exploring). It is not clear where the friends are from or if it even is a single country. They have a polyglot of accents, perhaps to disguise the origins of this film. The production itself is actually from the United Kingdom.
The women seem fairly expert at cave exploration, but it turns out that they have taken some bad risks. They wanted some danger but not all knew what all the risks they were taking were. Eventually they will run into more than they could have planned for including monsters. But the monsters are clearly fictional, while the troubles the women find in the cave before then are all the more scary because they do not rely on fantasy. The most suspenseful sequence in the film--or in this film year so far-- involves nothing that could not happen in the real world. The monsters that are introduced would perhaps have been more effective a few years ago. The fact that they are in this cave and their general appearance resembles a certain character in some recent films detracts somewhat form this film.
Neil Marshall, who wrote and directed DOG SOLDIERS, writes and directs here also. And the film has more true suspense than Marshall was counting on. Unfortunately, he peppered the script with false jumps. That is the sign of a writer who is insecure that his film has enough scares. You know the sort of thing. For just an instant is seems like something really scary is happening. When you seem that sudden noise came from a flock of bats just passing by, you are supposed to heave a sigh of relief. Marshall interrupts the film several times to play little jokes on his audience. He also faces but does not solve the problem that a big piece of the film is preparing to go underground or is going underground without a lot happening. It takes the women a while to put themselves into danger. Marshall takes this time to try to characterize his characters, but he does not get very far with it. However once things start happening, they do so quickly. Some of this is the real stuff of nightmares. It helps that it takes place in a claustrophobic and at times acrophobic setting. The tight places probably made it difficult to film, but Sam McCurdy's cinematography seems up to the task. Occasionally the shot have to be so close up that the characters are difficult to identify. The film is sort of a role reversal. There is only one (human) male in the film. The women seem to follow the usual male macho stereotype.
Marshall seems to waste the fact that his setting is dramatic and threatening enough without the introduction of monsters. Together they make for an effective, though not great, horror film. I would rate THE DESCENT +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
LAND OF THE DEAD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What happens when after the dead have returned they set up their own society? George Romero continues his saga of the aftermath of the dead returning to eat the living. Romero is more interested in Technicolor gore effects and in young people shooting big guns than in telling a frightening story. If any thing he has moved from horror to science fiction. But really it is an excuse to create an action film for the teenage crowd on Friday night. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
If you look at George Romero's 1968 film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD it really is a horror story. It is a horrific and oddly believable situation of everyday people trapped in a house and being besieged when the dead come back to life. There is not really a lot of carnage and blood in the film and when you see it, it has a powerful effect. It was filmed in black and white and that really helped to create the mood. If you compare that to his next film in the series, DAWN OF THE DEAD, in the latter he has totally lost whatever he knew or happened on to about horror. That is a comedy action film with a lot of Technicolor blood that is not really quite the right color. DAY OF THE DEAD made many of the same mistakes. The fourth entry LAND OF THE DEAD is an action film with mostly attractive people in their mid-twenties carrying big guns and driving big motor vehicles smashing up the dead. There are lots of images of the dead attacking and ripping apart the living. He does play with the ideas of what happens when you have two cultures that want to kill each other living in close proximity, but the situation has become academic rather than horrific. It is basically an action film combined with pornography, if the term pornography can be extended to include not bodies coming together but bodies being ripped apart. The film opens with a nearly but not quite accurate recreation of the Universal logo from films like THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Curiously on the DVD commentary Romero says that the logo was on "those old Universal Val Lewton films." Actually Lewton's films were made at least a decade later and were made at RKO.
There are a few interesting ideas explored in whether the living and dead can co-exist as two societies in spite of their hatred for each other. Although those ideas are explored in much greater depth on the world stage every day. Romero is generally following with his series the evolution outlined in the novel that inspired Romero, I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson. In that book those who died of a particular plague come back as non- supernatural vampires. There is just one human survivor left and it is the dead who are setting up society. That book, by the way, was made into the films THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, the wretched THE OMEGA MAN, and there currently is a third adaptation in the works starring, I believe, Will Smith. It is not really clear if this story is a sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and DAY OF THE DEAD. If so there is little continuity in the nature of the dead. The original film had them dangerous, but somewhat slow and stupid. ("Are they slow-moving, chief?" "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.") They are much less slow and much less messed up in this film. They are faster and they think. But they have an interesting Achilles Heel. No matter what they are doing, they stop with childish awe to look at fireworks displays. The story has human capitalists moving in to profit from the situation from the fall of civilization. Drinking spots have chained dead people with signs saying, "Get your picture taken with a Zombie." The worst fat-cat capitalist of all, dealing in sex, drugs, and all other vices of the living humans is called Kaufman and is played by Dennis Hopper. Kaufman rules over a skyscraper in a well-protected part of the city where the rich living people live. Those not so rich have to protect themselves.
I suppose that there are a few ideas of some interest here, but little more than one could find in a Sci-Fi Channel monster movie. The original did not have what sounded like an intriguing premise, but the style made it work as a horror film with immediacy and credibility. George Romero has a few more ideas in LAND OF THE DEAD but the film works out like tired cliches. I rate LAND OF THE DEAD a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. -mrl]
Trilogies vs. Triptychs (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In regard to Evelyn's comments on THE BAT TATTOO in the 08/04/06 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner wrote, "You wrote: 'Luckily, it seems more a triptych than a trilogy, in that the books seem to be able to stand on their own.' Actually, in a true trilogy, each book *does* stand on its own, but offers a different perspective on (what the author considers to be) the overall story that he is telling. What passes for a trilogy in SF and fantasy these days is really a single story in three parts -- what the Victorians used to call a "triple-decker". About the only real trilogy that I know of in SF is 'After Such Knowledge' by James Blish, comprising DOCTOR MIRABILIS, A CASE OF CONSCIENCE, and BLACK EASTER/THE DAY AFTER JUDGEMENT (Blish regarded these two as parts of a single entity)." [fl]
Evelyn responded, "Refresh my memory--do the three parts of the 'Perelandra' trilogy stand alone or not? (It's been a long time since I read them.)" [-ecl]
Mark answered, "I can answer that one. The books do stand on their own. Presumably it has not been all that long since you read PERELANDRA, which was at the same time I did. I am not sure I thought it was a great novel, but it did stand on its own. The trilogy is usually called the Lewis 'Space Trilogy', I think." [-mrl]
DNA, Westerns, and Tibet (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
New DNA Code: This Could Be Significant: John W. Campbell once started a speculative discussion. If you wanted to preserve a message for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, on the surface of a planet, how would you go about it? Great inscriptions on stone, wide-spread inscriptions on metal plates, those wouldn't hack it. But if you put it within living beings....
In a few years we may be saying "SCIENCE CATCHES UP WITH JOHN W CAMPBELL!!!!!"
Westerns: I recall reading a discussion of what were called "Easterns"--novels like THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS or most of Kenneth Roberts' s productions, about the very early days of expansion, set in the eighteenth not nineteenth century. Are novels about the trappers in the eighteen-twenties "westerns"? They worked west of the Missisippi. How about the "couriers du bois" in Nouvelle France? Same basic kinds of culture. Or the fur trade in Canada? There you even have the struggle between the big company and the little guy, but it isn't the railroad versus the cowman, it's the Bay (Hudson's Bay Company) versus the lone trapper.
And what about Allan Quatermain? He had some "western" style adventures--Haggard wrote over a dozen novels about him, though they included him exploring his past lives, not to mention SHE AND ALLAN which has Ayesha. But some of them were more mundane stories about settling South Africa.
I suppose there are some novels about settling Australia, but the closest thing I know of them is N. S. Norway's various works, and most of those are twentieth century (incuding the one about the man who is possessed by a traveller from the future, and the one about dying Australia).
Peter Hopkirk [TRESPASSERS ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD]: He has done a number of histories about the conflict in and among the peoples of Central Asia. At first they were more equal: The two British emissaries to one of the Central Asian shahs were kept in a dungeon for some years, then publicly beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam. The more things change....
I've been reading about Tibet in the middle of the last century: most lately, LOST IN TIBET, about five American airmen whose plane went down there. They were treated very well, but the whole question of Tibetan sovereignty came into play before they could get back to their fellow airmen again. The problem was that no matter what they did, they were wearing flight jackets with Chinese flags and notations that "This is a friend" in characters. In spite of their other attempts not to offend, this seems to have been considered by the government to be presumptuous. [-jtm]
[The story of the airmen was also included in the Hopkirk. -ecl]
National Film Board of Canada, WORDPLAY, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST, and Westerns (letter of comment by Chris Garcia):
Chris Garcia writes:
On the National Film Board of Canada shorts, there are so many classics that they've had a part in that they couldn't possibly put enough of them out to make me fully happy. There's "Birdlings", one of the first computer animated films that they've got and hasn't seen the light of day except in a short doc by the daughter of the creator. It is good to see that you can get "The Hat". I always loved that one.
I got to be the theatre announcer for one of WORDPLAY's first appearances on the festival circuit. I rather liked it, specially the parts where they actually managed to put some drama into things like the guy who said he always messed up and ended up in third place and his eventual downfall. I thought it was well- structured, but had problems such as the two halves not exactly fitting together. Also, Jon Stewart mugged just a little too much in his segment. Still, very enjoyable film and I really liked the filmmakers when I got to meet them.
Oddly, that wasn't even the best documentary at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival. That would belong to a doc about how they take Sesame Street around the world.
I'd say PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST was a lot of fun. If you went in just wanting to chew some popcorn, watch a lot of hamster-inspired action and see Johnny Depp be all swarthy, then you got what you wanted. Not the best Pirate movie ever (though certainly better than THE PIRATE MOVIE).
On the most recent issue, I just wrote an article for "The Drink Tank" about Westerns, and while I've always had a warm place in my heart for them, they've been my faves. I know why folks say that DANCES WITH WOLVES isn't a western (it's a period piece/costume drama) but I've always thought of it as a western. You can say that GHOSTS OF MARS is a western, or even Total Recall (stranger rides into town not knowing the truth and ends up taking out the boss of the town). My faves have always been the silent westerns like William S. Hart in HELL'S HINGES. Now that's a rootin'-tooin' good time! [-cg]
Just a few comments on the last part. I thought that GHOSTS OF MARS had a lot of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 in it. Evelyn had not seen the film (I am talking about the original, not the remake which neither of us have seen). We saw GHOSTS at a matinee and that evening I showed Evelyn ASSAULT. Her comment was that GHOSTS was almost a remake of ASSAULT.
You are looking at TOTAL RECALL on a very high level. There is a lot more than that to TOTAL RECALL. Now the recent movie that is really a western is David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I think it is a modernization of THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE.
If you are interested in silent westerns, let me second Evelyn's endorsement on the western film exhibit at the Autry Museum in Los Angles. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
AMPHIGOREY ALSO by Edward Gorey (ISBN 0-15-605672-0) is yet another collection of books by Gorey originally published as small individual volumes. This contains seventeen works, which is an average of fifteen pages each. This is achieved by sometimes having two pages from the original on a single page here, which I assume means that even though the original books were small, they are still shown in a reduced size here. Not surprisingly, the artwork loses in the process. One could, I suppose, use a magnifying glass. The positive side is that you can actually afford to get these works, since seventeen Gorey first editions would run you a pretty penny. (Other omnibus volumes include AMPHIGOREY and AMPHIGOREY TOO.)
THE ROWAN by Anne McCaffrey (ISBN 0-441-73576-2) was chosen for our science fiction group for July. Someone described it as a "good quick summer read," which I suppose it is. However, that is in part because it seems to be aimed at a teenage (or perhaps slightly older) audience, and more specifically at teenage girls. It is basically the coming of age and romance of a girl/woman called (annoyingly) "the Rowan", after her home planet. Why not just "Rowan"? Who knows? Anne McCaffrey has a lot of fans, but her writing does not work for me.
THE BRONTE MYTH by Lucasta Miller (ISBN 0-375-41277-8) is not a book about the Brontes' works, or a book about the Brontes, but a book about the way the Brontes have been considered by critics and the public since their works first appeared. Miller examines how the misconceptions started in earnest with Elizabeth Gaskell's LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE (although the Brontes themselves worked at projecting a specific image from the time they started writing). Most of what the public "knows" about the Brontes (e.g., they had a deprived upbringing isolated on the moors by a strict and parsimonious cleric father) turns out to be false. Everyone involved--the various Brontes, Gaskell, reviewers, other biographies, and so on--had an agenda, and so what they wrote and said was as much controlled by that agenda as by the truth. Over the years the agenda has changed, and new documents have been discovered which have shed new light on the Brontes and required re-evaluations. This was apparently written this before Jasper Fforde made Jane Eyre a major character in his first Thursday Next novel, THE EYRE AFFAIR, or Miller probably would have included that book in her discussion of how Charlotte Bronte's novel has become part of popular culture. Even if you are unfamiliar with the lives (or myths) of the Brontes, this book is useful as a study of how political, social, and literary agendas can shape what "history" records.
IMPROBABLE by Adam Fawer (ISBN 0-06-073677-1) is being marketed as a mainstream thriller, with blurbs by Caleb Carr and Clive Cussler. Do not let that fool you--this is a science fiction novel, and what is more, it is filled with so much nitty-gritty of mathematics (probability) and quantum physics that it might have even qualified for inclusion in ANALOG. David Caine is a man who is capable of calculating probabilities almost instantaneously, which means he almost always wins at games of chance. But the operative word here is "almost", and after a bad bet, Caine finds himself deeply in debt to the Russian Mafia. When he tries to get money by signing up for an experimental treatment for his epilepsy, he finds that his ability has expanded to encompass seeing the results of all the probabilities he calculates. He also finds that he is not the target of not just the Russian Mafia, but also the CIA, North Korean spies, Russian spies, and probably a bunch more people I have forgotten. (I should have used Mark's diagramming method.) People frequently ask on Usenet for examples of mathematical science fiction--well, here is a good one. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws. -- John Adams
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