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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/22/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 12, Whole Number 1353
Table of Contents
Pa Kent, Superhero:
Of Glenn Ford (1916-2006), the Daily Telegraph wrote:
"In the Second World War [Glenn] Ford served with the Marines, and was seconded to the French Resistance. He rarely spoke of his military service; and it was only 30 years later, when he was presented with a Liberator's Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, that it emerged he had been responsible for an act of extraordinary courage and compassion.
"Immediately after Germany's surrender, Ford had discovered that, while attention was focused on Dachau, some 15,000 intended victims were still alive, but barely, at the nearby camp of Fernwald, outside Munich. Defying orders that rations should not be diverted to displaced persons, Ford persuaded supply-sergeants to turn a blind eye while he loaded his truck with food and medical supplies for the starving survivors. It was a lifeline he kept going for seven weeks. He was credited with single- handedly saving the lives of between 5,000 and 6,000 of the abandoned inmates, and women in the camp named new-born sons after him."
[Full story at http://tinyurl.com/hopmf.]
A Small Measure of Fame:
For those who have wondered what kind of weird people put out the MT VOID, a picture of us at Readercon appears on page 44 of the September issue of LOCUS. [-mrl/ecl]
A Heinlein Centennial will be held at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center & Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri over the weekend of July 6-8, 2007. For more details, see http://www.heinleincentennial.com/. (Registration seems a bit picey to me, compared to most three-day conventions, but only you can judge.) [-ecl]
Does Anybody Check These Things? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was in Los Angeles and I noticed that they have John Wayne Airport. I suppose this just never clicked with me. This is John Wayne the star of THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. That was the film in which he was piloting an airplane from Hawaii to Los Angeles. He is running out of fuel and rather than putting down in the water he is flying into the city risking a disastrous crash. This is the guy they named an airport after? [-mrl]
Trailer Park Report: Live-Action Films, Part 2 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing on my thoughts of the trailers for new films I saw at the World Science Fiction Convention. At the point I left off last week the trailers took a distinct downhill slump.
Jet Li stars in FEARLESS, a glorified sports film apparently aimed at the art-house and the popular theaters. This is the based on truth story of Huo Yuanjia, who was a martial-arts champion and who became a hero of China. He helped to foster Chinese nationalism while China was occupied by France, Britain, Russia, and Japan in 1910. Supposedly the four occupying powers wanted to humiliate China, and each sent a champion fighter to defeat Huo. The honor of China rested on the outcome of the tournament. Knowing that China is making a film about Huo, you should be able to guess how the competition turns out.
THE RETURN has Sarah Michelle Gellar having nightmares about a fifteen-year-old murder case in a small dull Texas town of LaSalle. Soon she finds that the past is reaching out for her. Has she been seeing the actual murder? Why do I feel I myself have seen not just the murder, but the whole darn film? But this film should be just what you want if you want to see Sarah Michelle Gellar menaced in a rundown Texas town where it was cheap to film.
Sam Raimi has directed THE GRUDGE 2. This is yet another remake of a Japanese horror film. Or at least it possibly is. It is a sequel to a remake, but not necessarily a remake of the sequel. (A FEW DOLLARS MORE, for example, was not a remake of SANJURO and THE FLY 2 was not a remake of RETURN OF THE FLY.)) I liked the original Japanese THE GRUDGE until I saw THE GRUDGE 2 and recognized how artificial and formulaic both films were. It is a rare sequel that can make you dislike the original. The trailer for sequel promises a retread of some tired horror effects that did not need resurrecting. Weird pale kids with the black hair just do not scare me any more. Sorry.
In COVENENT four young men carry the onus of an evil that goes back to the 1600s. They must save the world from a centuries-old force that they accidentally released. William Bennett take note: supposedly the Right Wing does not think that Hollywood teaches old-fashioned virtues. But here are young people who know that when you release an evil force into the world, you have a responsibility to stop that evil. I think Bennett should be forced to see this film, but I am sure nothing could force me to see it. Lots of the effects look digital. [P.S. This film is already in release. Of 45 reviewers on the Rotten-Tomatoes site, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/covenant/, only one gave it a positive review.]
The worst audience reaction was to the remake of THE WICKER MAN. The original was one of the most beautiful horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. This is a film that needs to be seen, not remade. Remaking the film is both unnecessary and unwelcome. Some of the scenes of the trailer imply that supernatural elements have been added. Nicholas Cage stars and Ellen Burstyn is sort of an Earth Mother. [P.S. Also in release and doing better than THE COVENANT. Fourteen per cent of reviewers are positive. This may be a good time to mention that there are still a lot of good books being published.]
The trailer for THE REAPING just tells you that the story has something to do with the Biblical plagues taking place in modern times. The IMDB says, "Hilary Swank plays a former Christian missionary who lost her faith after her family was tragically killed, and has since become a world-renowned expert in disproving religious phenomena. But when she investigates a small Louisiana town that is suffering from what appear to be the Biblical plagues, she realizes that science cannot explain what is happening and she must regain her faith to combat dark forces threatening the community." This could be a good film, but let us say its potential far outstrips my expectations.
Nicholas Cage gets to play a motorcycle stunt rider from Hell battling the son of the Devil. GHOST RIDER is based on a Marvel comic. That is about all I can tell from the trailer. Be still my foolish heart. The film is written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who had a decent reputation from directing SIMON BIRTH and then blew it on DAREDEVIL.
The trailer for TRANSFORMERS seems to show a fairly believable scientific probe landing on Mars and prematurely dying after sending one top secret image. The image is that of a transformer. This tells me nothing I was not told by the title.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM has Ben Stiller as a hapless museum night watchman who finds that at night all the exhibits come to life due to an ancient curse. Mayhem ensues. Well-known actors of yesteryear Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney will appear in bit parts. Don't expect to see much you have not seen before in other fantasy comedies. It should be noted that Mickey Rooney has worked steadily in films since 1926. That is eighty years in film.
For non-Summer releases, those films sound pretty summertime. Now things get better. The remainder are films that seem worth looking for.
CHILDREN OF MEN sounds a lot like the kind of warning film we used to get in the 1970s. Actually, it is based on a novel by mystery writer P. D. James. I have the same misgivings about this film as I had about GATTACA, which may be a good sign. In the year 2027 some strange environmental problem has rendered all women infertile. Then one woman becomes pregnant. This could be done as a poor action film with, say, a chase for the one pregnant woman to dissect and learn her secret, or it could be a thoughtful look at how the human race would react to a death sentence. I am hoping for the latter. Certainly James is no hack writer, but a good deal could have been lost on the way to the screen. The cast includes Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine. Caine has recently been complaining that most films are poorly written. He might have soured by this script or he might have chosen it because it was well written. Caine's comments can be found at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2341438,00.html.
The next three trailers had little information of the films. They just seem to be showing scenes from the film without explanation and SPIDERMAN 3 did not seem to even have scenes from the film.
I liked SPIDER-MAN 1 as most people did. Most of the world seem to have loved SPIDER-MAN 2 which leads me to believe that the world is form somewhere out there and is just visiting in my solar system. The SPIDER-MAN 3 trailer has a only teaser suggesting that old Spidey is having some sort of emotional crisis that forces him to be seen in monochrome. The monochrome is new, the emotional crises are becoming tiresome. Okay, checking the IMDB it seems a specimen from the moon has given Spider-Man his strange new powers and a charcoal gray suit. Some guys get all the powers, you know.
The title THE FOUNTAIN may refer to the Fountain of Youth, though it seems to be called here the Tree of Life, so I may be wrong about that. This film is something of a departure for writer/director Darren Aronofsky and appears to have something to do with immortality. There are three connected stories at very three different points of time. One story takes place in America at the time of the conquistadors, one seems to be in the near future and one in the far future. The trailer had more tease than information. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star. Reviewer Devin Faraci at chud.com (I cannot vouch for his credentials) has seen the film and writes "For me the question about THE FOUNTAIN isn't 'Is this one of the best films made in decades?' but 'What are the handful of films in my lifetime as beautiful and profound as this one?'" Hot Dang!
STARDUST is based on a Neil Gaiman novel. The trailer, it was not even a trailer, shows a unicorn, ships, and perhaps pirates. The novel is a book-length fairy tail about a young man on a quest for a fallen star from the land of Faerie. The novel had gnomes and talking animals and who knows what else. Serious feature length documentaries have a spotty history. I hope this is better than LEGEND.
That is the bunch. I hope Faraci is right about THE FOUNTAIN. Until I find out the film I am waiting for is THE PRESTIGE. [-mrl]
A Few Thoughts on Our Trip to Arizona (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Before going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, we stopped off in Arizona for a few days. We landed in Phoenix Thursday, August 17, and drove up to Flagstaff the next day. We return to Phoenix Monday, August 21, and flew to Anaheim the next day.
Driving up, we got off the Interstate at Sedona and had lunch at the Oaxaca Restaurant, where I got their posole (a.k.a. pozole). I had previously made posole from a recipe, and it was pretty good, but I had no idea whether it was authentic. Mine had more posole and less chicken than Oaxaca's and my chicken was not chopped as fine. Mine was also spicier--not too surprising, as restaurants tend to be cautious. [Posole is kernels of corn that have been soaked in lime water, hulled, and dried. Frequently a special breed of corn is used from a plant that produces corn kernels as much as a half-inch wide. The same corn is sometimes used to make Corn-nuts. -mrl]
My Posole Recipe (found on the Web)
Soak 8 oz posole overnight.
Combine posole, 2 dried New Mexico chiles (stems and seeds removed, crumbled), 1 chopped onion, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon oregano, and 6 cups water. Boil on medium for 3 hours, adding water as necessary. Add 1 pound cubed chicken. Cook another half-hour until chicken is done.
Meanwhile, cover 4 dried New Mexico chiles (stems and seeds removed--or leave the seeds in if you want it very hot) with hot water and soak for fifteen minutes. Put chiles, 1/2 cup of the soaking water and 1 teaspoon garlic powder in the blender and puree.
Serve pepper sauce and chopped onion as garnishes for posole.
From Sedona we took Route 89A north through Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most scenic roads I know. My mother-in-law seemed to think it was very difficult to drive, but I did not find it so.
I do not think it matters where one stays in Flagstaff--one will hear the trains coming through constantly.
Saturday we drove to Williams and took the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon. My only complaint is that I wish there was a "no entertainment" car, without singers, fake hold-ups, etc. The most exotic animals we saw were llamas. Other than that it was cattle and birds.
This is our fourth time at the Grand Canyon (three times at the South Rim and once at the North Rim), so I am not going to write a lot about the original "Big Dig". Mark had a lot of fun learning his new digital camera, which a friend had given him as a gift just ten days ago.
The problem with the shuttle bus system at the Grand Canyon is that it is very difficult to gauge how long it will take to get somewhere. I mean, it seemed as though two hours was more than enough time to get from the train depot to Hermit's Rest and back, given that it was under ten miles. But after we got on the bus, the driver mentioned that the round trip from the transfer spot to Hermit's Rest was seventy-five minutes. Add ten minutes for each stop where one gets out to look around, and the time from the transfer point to get back to the depot, and you discover you are cutting it fairly close. But since there are no timetables posted, one may not discover this until it is too late.
The bathroom stalls at the train depot at the Grand Canyon are so small that they had to cut away part of the door so that it could swing over the toilet. I almost couldn't fit in--Heaven help anyone larger! (And I wish that all bathroom stall doors had hooks on them. Not only were these very small, but I was trying to juggle my day bag at the same time!)
We had dinner in Williams at Cruiser's Route 66 Cafe. There is a lot of retro decor in this area; even the McDonald's near our motel is one of the retro ones. The sales (or possibly restaurant) tax is outrageous in some of these towns--11% in Williams and something similar in Sedona and Flagstaff.
I would like to do something drastic to whoever invented the electronic car lock that honks the horn whenever it locks or unlocks the door. And I would love to see motels charge a $10 fine every time someone sets off his horn by locking or unlocking his car door ($20 after 10PM).
Sunday we went to Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monument. We ate dinner at Granny's Closet, which had a good chile stew, but mediocre Italian dishes.
Monday we drove back out of Flagstaff on Route 89A again. In additional to the curves and the grade, we also had to contend with road work, and a slow truck in front of us.
The McDonalds in Sedona apparently had to meet various special building codes: it is pink stucco with a set of turquoise arches painted on the side.
We passed Planet Java, which advertises "The Galaxies' Best Coffee and Ice Cream." Unless they are really including other galaxies, their grammar is wrong.
After Sedona we continued on Route 89A. For a while it was fairly level and straight, then as we approached Jerome things changed. A few miles out, I commented, "Look at those houses perched way up on that mountain." Well, little did I know we were going to be driving right through them!
After Jerome, we got more warning signs about curves, 7% downgrade, and "watch for animals", as well as the ubiquitous "road work". I think Mark's mother may have gotten a bit of a scenery overdose on roads.
We finally arrived in Prescott, where we went to the Sharlot Hall Museum. (The name was a little hard to parse but it got its name from someone named Sharlot Hall.) This consists of the original Governor's Mansion (a log house), a later Governor's Mansion, and some other buildings, all with displays about early Arizona history. One display was items excavated when they decided to build a parking garage in Prescott, and so did an archaeological excavation before construction began. There was a poster about what it might be like 135 years from now, when archaeologists did there again. Termed "Parking Garage of the Mysteries", it assumes that such objects as Popsicle sticks, car air fresheners, and hood ornaments will be completely unknown to archaeologists. But given how many photographs, books, and so on we have documenting our current world, that is unlikely. (Back 135 years ago (1871), non-portrait photographs were still rare, and books did not talk about objects in common use.)
For one display, on the wall, they had a quote: "We took away their country, broke up their mode of living and their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?" --General Philip Sheridan
This is the same man who said, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian"?
America West/US Airways at the Phoenix Airport has little booties for you, drawstring plastic bags for your pocket stuff, dogs, and an air puffer. You stand in a booth and it puffs six puffs of air at you from various angles, then analyzes them for explosives. I said to Mark, "This is the sort of thing people would pay for at Disneyland," and the TSA person thought that was pretty funny. (Kids are either afraid of it or love it.) There was also no line at check-in and hardly any line at security at 9:00AM. (Newark had 25-minute check-in lines, and about 20- minute security lines at 5:30AM.)
On the other hand, we were almost burned by the problems due to a lot more bags being checked, as they almost tagged our checked bag for "PSP" instead of "LAX". (There were two check-in kiosks forming a 90-degree angle, and apparently the person at the other was going to "PSP"--Palm Springs.) Luckily we noticed this--I would highly recommend that you look at the tag stuck on your luggage if you check bags. (The last time this happened was when they tagged our bags for Belgrade when we were going to Zagreb in 1991. We did not catch it, but when the agent turned back to give us our boarding passes, he noticed and then ran down the conveyor belt to rescue the bags!)
More about travel in the Southwest can be found in my earlier logs, linked from http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/trops.htm:
HEAVENLY INTRIGUE by Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder (Anchor, 2004/2005, ISBN 1-400-03176-1, 336pp) (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
On November 4, 1601, Tycho Brahe was laid to rest in Prague in a decorous funeral. He had been struck ill twenty-two days earlier during a banquet. At the beginning of the evening he had felt fine but as the evening progressed he became more and more ill. After eleven days of great pain he was dead. The explanation that has been built around that evening says that he had had a desperate need to relieve his bladder but was too polite to excuse himself from the table. This resulted in a blockage that eventually killed him. However, as Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder report in HEAVENLY INTRIGUE, a forensic analysis in 1991 showed that he had mercury levels in his body that were one hundred times normal and that he must have ingested the mercury around 9:00 the evening of the banquet. Also, there was another large ingestion of mercury just thirteen hours before his death.
Tycho Brahe was succeeded in his post as Imperial Mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II by his assistant Johannes Kepler. Today Kepler is remembered as a strong proponent of the Copernican view that the Earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around. The Gilders suggest that the now-respected Kepler was also the murderer of Tycho Brahe. The motive for the murder, it is suggested, was forty years of astronomical data and observations that Brahe had collected and that would become available to Kepler only on Brahe's death.
The book follows the two astronomers' careers. Brahe had a passion for data, rejecting the commonly accepted observations at the time as being inaccurate and much preferred collecting his own. He has built his own observatory and from it measured what he thought was the birth of a new star. Today we know it to be the death of an old star in a supernova. Based on his success, Denmark's King Frederick II built his a powerful new observatory.
They tell us of Kepler's unhappy childhood with a cruel father. He had wanted to go to the priesthood, but for reasons not clear he was not wanted there. His teachers pushed him into mathematics instead. Kepler was a life-long believer in astrology and his dependence on the stars framed much of his thinking. As he says of his wife, "Take a look at a person for whom the good stars like Jupiter and Venus are not in a favorable position at the time of birth. You will see that such a person may in fact be honest and wise but still has an unhappy and rather sad fate." Kepler's view of the universe accepted Copernicus and at the same time was grounded in the Aristotelian view. The planets could revolve around the sun, but interplanetary distances were controlled by the five Platonic solids nested one within another.
The book introduces both of the astronomers and gives their histories before and after their joining each other to work together. When they do meet it is under unfortunate circumstances that caused the then-famous Brahe to underrate Kepler's theories. His later kindness toward Kepler is only occasionally met with appreciation. Brahe eventually had welcomed an opportunity to work with Kepler, but due to earlier incidents in which some of Brahe's discoveries were plagiarized, he never trusted anyone, including Kepler, with all his data. The two had an on-again, off-again relationship with Kepler respect never really blooming.
The book covers the two men's histories for about two hundred pages, leading up to the death of Brahe. Then it has several chapters covering the modern investigation into the death of Brahe whose body shows unmistakable signs of mercury poisoning. The book looks at who had motive and opportunity and concludes that the killer was probably Kepler who wanted to steal Brahe's data.
It seems the history of science, or nearly any other subject whose history is still studied, include frequent rumors of scandal. We are familiar, for example, with the supposed hatred and alleged murder of Mozart by Antonio Salieri. Perhaps Kepler did murder Brahe. The conjecture makes for juicy gossip. But one is tempted to ask after all this time, what difference would it make, even if the murder by Kepler could be proven. We live in a world that Brahe, Kepler, and for that matter Mozart and Salieri could not conceive of. The people of today are totally alien to Brahe and his contemporaries. Would it make much difference to Brahe or to Kepler that at this late date our understanding how Brahe died changes? If four hundred years from now people decide that I was the assassin who killed John Kennedy, would that really bother me? I think not. [-mrl]
THE ILLUSIONIST (letter of comment by Sherry Glotzer):
In response to Mark's review of THE ILLUSIONIST in the 09/15/06 issue of the MT VOID, Sherry Glotzer writes, "I was really impressed by Giamatti's performance as well in THE ILLUSIONIST. As we left the theater I told my husband I thought he has the potential to be one of the really great actors of our time. He has the everyman quality that makes him so believable. He doesn't appear to 'hog' the screen, but achieves excellence by 'reacting' to whomever he is sharing the scene with him. I get the feeling his best work is yet to come." [-sag]
Mark responds, "He always plays the strange character, the outsider. This was his first role that he has not been to some extent counter-culture. This is the first time I can remember that he has played someone who really fits in with the culture. That is actually harder to do. There are lots of ways to be believably strange and very few to not be strange and to convey drama. But he has always been magnetic. I would compare him to Jack Lemmon who started with strange comedy roles and then became a good dramatic actor later." [-mrl]
THE ILLUSIONIST and HOLLYWOODLAND (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
Also in response to Mark's review of THE ILLUSIONIST in the 09/15/06 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
Aside from the telegraphed ending, the thing that bothered me most about THE ILLUSIONIST was how it painted the easy-going, tolerant Vienna of the 1890s as some kind of police state. They should have made it 'Ruritania'. You wonder how the title character's background 'could have escaped [becoming] a major issue in anti-Jewish Austro-Hungary.' Actually, that's one of the things the filmmakers got right. Consider that this was the heyday of Sigmund Freud, who was not only Jewish but was saying some extremely controversial things. Yet, having graduated from the University of Vienna a few years before the period of the movie, he was named a professor there immediately afterward. He continued to live and teach in Vienna until the Germans annexed Austria in the late 1930s. [-tw]
[I don't think that Freud had much dealings with the Austro- Hungarian royalty of the time. I think if he had his religion would most definitely have been an issue. The University of Vienna was out of necessity for the most part a meritocracy not an aristocracy. Aristocracies do not have the same pressure to move with the times. -mrl]
I remember being annoyed at the flashback in SLEEPY HOLLOW, in which Ichabod Crane's mother is tortured to death for witchcraft: a) in an iron maiden; b) in America; c) in the late 18th century. This is wildly at variance with real history, of course. Unfortunately, many people believe what they see. [-tw]
[I have a friend who, in a discussion of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN--a films which really distorts history, claimed people do not get their history from films. People most assuredly do get their history from films. The same issue comes up from the current film THE PATH TO 9/11. -mrl]
And in response to Mark's review of HOLLYWOODLAND, also in the 09/15/06 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
In your review of HOLLYWOODLAND, I note, you catch the filmmakers promulgating a falsehood about George Reeves's career. Now, reflect just how much falsehood there will be in movies set in more distant, more unfamiliar locales than California in the 1950s. [-tw]
[There is latitude for that. Some filmmakers are more careful than others about getting the facts right, particularly when they impact on current politics. -mrl]
P.S.: SF trivia question for your readers: In what classic science fiction novel does the Black Dahlia killer put in an appearance? [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
There seem to be a lot of books out these days titled "The [some branch of science] of [some popular TV show or film]": "The Biology of The X-Files", "The Paleontology of King Kong", "The Algebraic Topology of Buffy", that sort of thing. Most seem fairly undistinguished, but THE PHYSICS OF STAR TREK by Lawrence M. Krauss (ISBN 0-465-00559-4) is a notch above the others. Krauss looks at the various inventions and assumptions of "Star Trek", from transporters and wormholes, to the holodeck to parallel universes, and analyzes them in the light of current knowledge of physics. Krauss has a very thorough knowledge of the episodes of the many "Star Trek" series, and will cite them by name as the one in which the lack of Federation cloaking devices was explained, or what the various mechanisms were in each time travel episode. In addition, even if you are particularly knowledgeable about "Star Trek", Krauss's explanation of modern physics does not depend on it, and all his references give enough description to make it comprehensible to all. Recommended for fans, and even for dabblers. (Krauss was featured in the 1998 documentary "The Sci-Fi Files".)
The BBC is producing a series of "Mystery" shows featuring Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. The first season included "The Body in the Library", "Murder at the Vicarage", "A Murder Is Announced", and "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw", and were reasonably faithful. In the second series, though, they depart wildly from the original novel for "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" (ISBN 0-451-20052-7). First of all, the original is a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford novel without Miss Marple in it at all. In the teleplay, Miss Marple is added but does not do very much and was apparently put in just so they could bill it as a "Miss Marple" story. In addition, the teleplay removes large portions of the plot and motivation, and then replaces it by expanding a very peripheral part of the story. One normally expects the BBC to do a faithful adaptation of whatever the source work is, but in this one they did not. (It is true that or someone unfamiliar with the original work, the teleplay will seem fine, but that is a separate issue.)
CUSTER'S LAST JUMP by Howard Waldrop and a variety of co-authors (ISBN 1-930846-13-4) is a collection of Waldrop's collaborations with other authors. They are in general good, though I prefer Waldrop's solo works as being having more of that distinctive Waldrop style.
In 1998, I read LETTERS BACK TO ANCIENT CHINA by Herbert Rosendorfer (translated by Michael Mitchell) (ISBN 1-873982-97-6). This consisted of a series of letters written to Dji-gu by Kao-tai, a Chinese mandarin from the tenth century who finds himself in twentieth century Munich. (Dji-gu is still in the tenth century.) At the time I did not realize it, but now I realize that this was probably a pastiche/homage to Montesquieu's PERSIAN LETTERS (1721, translated by C. J. Betts, 1973) (ISBN 0- 14-044281-2). (As often happens, I encountered the copy before the original, so could not entirely appreciate it. For example, I saw KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE before ENTER THE DRAGON.) PERSIAN LETTERS is a classic of literature and philosophy, and its form is a series of letters written between two Persian travelers to Europe (particularly Paris) and various people back in Ispahan. By using the reactions of outsiders to European society, Montesquieu was able to show its foibles more clearly. In this sense one might almost claim him as a forerunner of science fiction, which also uses the alien (either in space or time) to hold up a mirror to ourselves.
In Letter 85, for example, Uzbek writes that a plan to force all the Armenians in Persia to convert or leave was wisely abandoned, adding, "To have proscribed the Armenians would have meant wiping out in a single day all the businessmen and almost all the skilled workers in the kingdom, . . . and that in sending his most highly skilled subjects away to the Mongol and other Indian kings he would have felt as if he were presenting them with half his territory." This, of course, is just what Spain did in 1492, to her detriment and the advancement of Holland and other countries.
I will also note that the cover illustration of the Penguin edition from J. E. Liotard's "Turkish Woman and Her Slave". In this painting, there is a sink with a "mixer faucet" on it. Liotard lived in the 18th century, so these must have existed then, yet as recently as the 1980s, they seemed rare in Britain. And when we asked about why they were rare, we were told that people did not think the technology had really been worked out yet! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A gossip is one who talks to you about others, a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself. -- Lisa Kirk
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