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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/06/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 14, Whole Number 1355
Table of Contents
It Doesn't Figure (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If it is true that there is strength in numbers, how come the kid who is best in math in the high school is also the most bullied? [-mrl]
The following recently appeared in "The New Republic":
"The AP and UPI reported that the French Government announced after the London bombings that it has raised its terror alert from 'Run' to 'Hide.' The only two higher levels in France are 'Surrender' and 'Collaborate.' The rise in the alert level was precipitated by a recent fire which destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively disabling their military."
Playing Devil's Advocate for the MPAA (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is a current film with the title THIS FILM HAS NOT YET BEEN RATED. The film is a documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America and its policies when it rates films. It is one more voice--and there are many--complaining about the process by which the MPAA rates films. You do not hear many people arguing for the MPAA. I think they have most of the power of the system behind them so do not feel they have to defend themselves. The people who rate the films are anonymous, so individually they are not under much pressure. The vast majority of arguments you see, at least that I have seen, are against the MPAA. That immediately gets me wondering whether I am hearing the whole story. Before I buy into the complaints I sort of itch to go in and see if perhaps the MPAA would be able to make a case for its policies. Okay, so let me try playing Devil's Advocate and defending the MPAA policies.
Recognize at the start that I feel I am coming in as an outsider. By that I mean that I consider ratings to be in place mostly for parents to use in the protection of children. People are afraid that children will see or hear something in a film that they are not supposed to see or hear or maybe something that will frighten them. I have no children, so I am getting involved in something that is not really my fight. But I also might be more objective. For the most part the children themselves have no objection to seeing films beyond, perhaps well beyond, the rating recommended for them. Some parents want to control what their children see and hear, but the children themselves have a different point of view. Rare is the child I have known who has said that they wish someone had prevented him or her from seeing a film they have seen. I question the damage that is done by having a child see horrific images in films they wanted to see. I saw some scary films when I was young and I savor the memories. But I am not arguing that here. Parents seem to feel they want to shield their children from some images and ideas. Whether or not we as a society are being over-protective of children is an issue for another article.
Also, let me bring up an incident that has stuck with me for years. At a science fiction convention. I attended a panel on the then recently released film ROBOCOP and someone pivotal in the making of that film was regaling the audience with the problems they had getting a favorable rating from the MPAA. This person was playing the audience for sympathy by saying the filmmakers had to cut several scenes of violence. Now first of all the American industry is a lot looser on violence restrictions than Europe. They are stict on sex scenes, but violence seems generally okay by them. If the film hit their violence tolerance threshold it must have been very strong. Apparently ROBOCOP could have been a much more violent film if they had been allowed to make it the way they wanted. The speaker was saying he had been "censored." Now that is a loaded word. I am desperately against censorship. Censorship is the prevention of someone from expressing an idea. It seemed to me to be a gross misrepresentation to say that what was going on was censorship.
So let me take that as the first argument that I would like to counter. Does the MPAA censor films? My understanding of what the MPAA does is not what I would call censorship..When they rate a film they categorize it. They have various categories: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, and X. These categories express how objectionable a film would be for children at certain ages. That is a very subjective call. The realities of the film market and industry make some of these categories more profitable than others. Specifically, a rating of NC-17 will generally make a film less profitable than it would be with an R. So filmmakers will try to tailor their films to get an R-rating rather than an NC-17. Filmmakers want the film to be as profitable as possible. If the film is put into the NC-17 category, nobody is preventing the filmmaker from releasing it that way. Any thoughts in the film will have still been expressed and published, but they will have been expressed and published in a film that does not make as much money. Further, in censorship a work of art is judged without the author's consent. Somebody else takes it upon himself to judge the work. The MPAA only judges films that have been submitted to them by the filmmakers. They are asked by the filmmaker to categorize a film, and they do so.
It is true that the way the industry works that film will be less profitable without a certification, but the MPAA is not punishing anybody directly. The worst that they can be accused of is letting the market punish the filmmaker. To call that process "censorship," is inaccurate and devalues the word. I would much prefer to save the word for cases in which artists' civil liberties really are being curtailed by the state. There was never any question of that happening with ROBOCOP and to say that this is as much censorship as removing HUCKLEBERRY FINN from library shelves is unconscionable.
The complaint is made that the MPAA ratings judges are anonymous. I think a better case has to be made for why this is a problem. I can certainly see why they would be kept anonymous. This saves them from being lobbied by people who might want to change or affect their judgement. The MPAA provides a process in place for the filmmaker who wants to appeal a decision. I think that there is a real danger that if the judges are known they are vulnerable to outside influence in an industry in which so much money is at stake. If I were setting up such a system I would want the judges anonymous.
A major complaint is that there are no specific published criteria for what will and will not affect a rating. The boundaries of an NC-17, for example, are never stated. They never give the filmmaker a list of the scenes that need to be changed either. That is too vague for filmmakers who want specifics. To understand why they should do this one has only to look at the mess it is in the law to define pornography. What is and is not pornography is very subjective. They boundaries are very poorly defined. The more specific the definition is, the more problems with the definition will be found. Even lawmakers have objected to defining pornography precisely saying simply that they know it when they see it. This is much the same issue. The MPAA chooses to have its committee vote on what their gut feeling is. I do not think it is possible even to decide that a particular scene would disqualify a film from a simple R-rating. Context is everything in film. This goes back to the Kuleshov Experiment.
Lev Kuleshov in 1918 or so demonstrated that a given scene's meaning and interpretation is vastly altered by the scenes around it and by context. The same scene, a prisoner looking up, was cut together with first a bird singing, then the prisoner's dinner coming, and then something else. How the viewer interpreted the identical prisoner scene was entirely determined by the scenes around it. So it is absurd to say that thirteen frames of some kind of violence will earn an NC-17 and twelve frames will only give a film an R-rating. The effect is subjective and the vote must be also.
If parents are concerned about what film their children will be seeing, there is no substitute for screening the film first. That takes a lot of time and dedication, however. The MPAA offers a subjective rating service that I suspect even they themselves would say is not as good as pre-screening. But it saves a lot of time and effort. The service they perform for parents could be optimal and still not be very good. If they are sincere, and playing Devil's Advocate I will say I think they are, the worst they can be accused of is subjective differences from some of their accusers. But even Supreme Court justices have their critics. Any job that calls for judgement will have detractors and second-guessers. A lot of money riding on the decision only makes the controversy worse.
So I am inclined to defend the MPAA even if there are films being made to complain about them. This is purely for reasons of argument, you understand. [-mrl]
HUNTERS OF DUNE by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2006, Tor, $27.95, 524pp, ISBN 0-765-31292-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
WARNING: This review contains spoilers. I will indicate when those spoilers start and stop for those that don't want to have things, well, spoiled.
Under the authors' names on the title page is the following line: "Based on an outline by Frank Herbert." So, as I'm reading this book, the thought that kept running through my head was, "Well, if this is the direction that Frank truly wanted to go, then I'm okay with it."
Okay, let me recap, or as Monty Python would say, "the show so far". Frank Herbert wrote the original six "Dune" novels, and it is generally agreed that the original, DUNE, is the best of the lot. The end of CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE left us with a very nasty cliffhanger, which Frank was planning to resolve in the next novel. Then Frank died. The series lay dormant (as it probably should have) for many years, until Frank's son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson decided to pick up the story. Their plan was to complete the series, even though they had no idea where Frank wanted to go. Along the way, they found a treasure trove of Frank's notes and papers, including a detailed outline for "Dune 7". In order to generate renewed interest in the series, they decided to do a prequel series which ended right about the time that DUNE began. Then they went back and wrote the "Legends of Dune" series, which covered the Butlerian Jihad, and event that merited small mention in the original novels. Having completed those six, and after releasing a book called "The Road to Dune", they set upon finishing the story that Frank started.
I repeat: If this is the direction that Frank truly wanted to go, then I'm okay with it.
Before I get into more detail, there's one thing I want to cover, and that's writing style. I've been looking at various reviews on the net, and when there's criticism, it's always over writing style. "They can't match Frank's style", they say, or "Frank had a way of writing that was just so much better than these guys-- they can't match it". Guess what? They're right! On top of that, on www.dunenovels.com they as much said that they can't and don't plan to copy Frank's writing style. And while I can understand why someone might not read the Brian/Kevin collaborations for that very reason, don't say the books are bad because of it. I've read much, much worse than these two.
And I've read much better.
But I do have an addendum to my earlier thought: I'm okay with where they're going, except for the fact that they're doing it in two books instead of one.
Okay, off soapbox.
The story picks up three years after Duncan, Sheeana, Miles Teg, Tleilaxu Master Scytale,a bunch of sandworms, some critters called Futars, and some Jewish refugees leave Chapterhouse to escape the clutches of the old man and woman who mysteriously appeared near the end of the previous book. Their goal is simple to state, yet pretty much impossible to achieve: find a place to settle down without falling into the grasp of Marty and Daniel (the old man and woman). On another front, we have the proceedings on Chapterhouse, where former Honored Matre Murbella tries to merge the Bene Gesserit and the Honored Matres into a unified force to be able to defend the Old Empire from the Ancient Enemy that is coming from the fringes of the Scattering. The new Sisterhood has a tight leash on the Spacing Guild and the Navigators, as Murbella and her crew are the only source of spice, which the Guild Navigators need to fold space. That action leads to the Guild trying to find a way to get navigational machines from Ix to replace the Navigators. Meanwhile, Murbella is leading the Sisterhood on a crusade to crush the remaining Honored Matre cells so that there is no opposition to her when the Ancient Enemy arrives. And then there's the issue of the new Face Dancers, which we met back in CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE. Where did they really come from, and what are they doing here?
Brian and Kevin clear up many of the mysteries that Frank left us with by the end of the previous book, and I think they have to. We find out the origin of the Honored Matres, who is chasing them back from the Scattering into the Old Empire and why, what's up with those new-fangled Face Dancers, who the Oracle of Time is, and who the Ancient Enemy is.
SPOILERS START HERE. PLEASE SKIP THE NEXT SECTION TO AVOID THE SPOILERS.
It seems to me that most of what is revealed in this book makes sense in the context of both HERETICS OF DUNE and CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE. The fact that the Honored Matres have their basis in the old Tleilaxu axlotl tanks makes a kind of sense when you think about it, and the fact that they're running from the Ancient Enemy because they ticked them off makes some sense too. The fact that the Ancient Enemy is (are?) actually the Thinking Machines from the Butlerian Jihad that have bided their time over the last 15,000 years is believable, in my mind. The only problem I ran into was believing that the old man and woman were actually Omnius and Erasmus from the "Legends" series. I'd believe that they were somehow leaders of the Thinking Machines, and I think it's decent enough that Brian and Kevin tried to tie everything together, but the entire tone of the novel changed when those identities were revealed.
The thing that many readers may find a cheat, but I believe is reasonable simply because Frank wouldn't have put them there if he didn't intend to do anything about them, is the resurrection of the historical figures from the nullentropy tube in Scytale's chest. That nullentropy tube was mentioned in the previous books, and it was explicitly stated that Paul's cells were preserved in that tube. It makes complete sense to me that they would try and resurrect those personalities and reactivate their memories in preparation for the coming war against the Ancient Enemy.
The books does continue the theme of plots within plots, and dangling, oh, four or five issues in front of you, never really giving you everything you need right away to resolve anything. What's different is the viciousness of some of the characters, which I think makes some sense in the case of Murbella and her new Sisterhood, as they need to wipe out the old Honored Matres while some of them have their roots as Honored Matres.
Is this a great book? No. Is this a good book? So far. It's annoying that Brian and Kevin are taking two books to do what Frank was going to do in one, so the jury is still out. So far, the story makes sense, it's enjoyable, and I continue to be entertained. The tone of the book changed dramatically when the identities of the old man and woman are revealed--up until then, it did indeed feel like a "real" Dune book. I think the jury is still out. Still, I do recommend it, as long as you plan on picking up the next book, SANDWORMS OF DUNE, a year from now. [-jak]
HEAVENLY INTRIGUE (letter of comment by Mike Glyer):
In response to Mark's book review of HEAVENLY INTRIGUE in the 09/22/06 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Glyer writes:
Obviously I have no more idea than anyone else whether Brahe's poisoning was evidence of murder. But it also occurs to me that mercury was used in the treatment of syphilis back in Ye Olde Days:
"There were originally no effective treatments for syphilis. The most common in use were guaiacum and mercury: the use of mercury gave rise to the saying "A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury". Though no proper studies were done to prove it, mercury may have been an effective means to treat syphilis. It was administered multiple ways including by mouth and by rubbing it on the skin. One of the more fascinating methods was fumigation, in which the patient was placed in a closed box with his head sticking out. Mercury was placed in the box and a fire was started under the box which caused the mercury to vaporize. It was a gruelling process for the patient and the least effective for delivering mercury to the body."
Various Topics (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 09/29/06 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Man, Mark, you sure sound like a fun dinner date. Statistically explaining it to your wife why it was not worth bringing home a doggie bag full of ribs sounds like a bit of a clunker ending to what sounds like a delicious dinner. I'm surprised Evelyn didn't make you wear them home to New Jersey!
[Just because I asked her to consider a new idea? I would not have married her if she could not withstand that. -mrl]
I taught ESL to quite a few Japanese students who came to Texas A&M University to pursue their undergraduate and graduate degrees in Engineering, Agriculture, and other subject areas, and the thing that always blew them away was the sheer amount of SPACE is here in Texas. They stay, 2 or 3 at a time, in dorm rooms and apartments that dwarf the apartment homes their entire families had to utilize! In their minds, we are extremely space-wasteful; they are astonished by what we call "small." For example, my family of five--two parents, three children ages 21, 15, and soon-to-be-11--lives in a typical, 1300-square-foot, three- bedroom house in College Station, two-car garage, and a decent sized front yard with a fenced in backyard. A couple of my ELI students visited a couple years ago and said that we lived like kings! To us it is way too small. Before we moved here we owned a four-bedroom home in Marshalltown, Iowa, and that had a huge backyard, detached 2-car garage, small front yard, but it was over 1700 square feet of living space; it did not take into account the 3/4-size basement. It's all perspective based on what you've grown up with.
[ESL? Je ne comprend pas ESL. (That is a joke.) -mrl]
[I wonder if agoraphobia can actually be genetic. I think certain phobias are. Fear of snakes, spiders, and heights, for example, seem to go beyond what one would expect from cultural training. Newborns seem to fear heights almost instantly. Fear of snakes and spiders, however, is not universal. I have no instinctive fear of snakes but do have one, albeit easily overcome, of spiders. But I can see how there is a survival value to fear of spiders, snakes, and heights. -mrl]
Lots of movie reviews this time around. Good deal for people like me who don't have the time--or money--to get out and see them all. But we do want to see FLYBOYS and THE BLACK DAHLIA. Those sound good.
Many thanks for your latest. Here's to many more.
[If you see FLYBOYS, check out the reference I gave to compare the film version with what really happened: http://www.mgm.com/flyboys/pdf/real_vs_reel.pdf. People should be aware that FLYBOYS is *not* a third-generation sequel to the David Cronenberg film. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
SCIENCE FICTION by Adam Roberts (ISBN 0-415-19205-6) is in Routledge's "The New Critical Idiom" series. It seems to be attempting to be a serious academic study of science fiction, with a ten-page glossary, a six-page bibliography, sentences like "That is what these nova [*] symbolise: the linkage and coherence of intertextuality itself, the web of quotation and illusion in which all texts are located." ([*] "Nova" is Dark Suvin's coined word for "the new things that distinguish the SF tale from a conventional literature.") I would find this pose of seriousness more convincing were it not marred by poor editing (or proofreading): John Campbell is referred to as "Joseph Campbell" at least once (page 75), Isaac Asimov's "Hari Seldon" is spelled "Sheldon" every time after the first mention, and Olaf Stapledon's name is spelled "Stapleton", both in the text and in the index. (Thomas M. Disch also makes the latter error in THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF.) I would be more willing to slog through the academic language if I did not have the nagging feeling that maybe some of it is rendered incorrectly also.
"A New Refutation" by John Crowley (subtitled "Hommage a J.L.B."), written for the Readercon 17 Souvenir Book, also suffers from a lack of editing. In it Crowley talks about computers generating texts, and talks about "the long-standing problem of how few colors a mapmaker would need to construct a map where no two contiguous countries or regions would be the same color" and says, "a computer . . . has proven that three colors are in fact enough." No, it is *four* colors. What is disturbing about this is that an author would be embarrassed to have written that France is in Asia, or that Herman Melville wrote DAVID COPPERFIELD, but I suspect that if this mistake were pointed out, the response would be that no one would notice. (I will not accept as valid the suggestion that the story is set in an alternate universe where three colors suffice.)
And speaking of Borges, one finds references to him in the oddest places. I was reading the title essay in ADAM'S NAVEL by Stephen Jay Gould (ISBN 0-146-00047-1), in which Gould discusses (and refutes) Philip Henry Gosse's OMPHALOS: AN ATTEMPT TO UNTIE THE GEOLOGICAL KNOT. Gosse's theory was that the world had been created by God out of nothing, but that there was a timeline before creation, implied but just as real as that after creation, and that Adam's navel, fossils in stone, and implications of growth and evolution before the time of Creation are all necessary to testify to this pre-Creation timeline. In a postscript, Gould writes that after the essay first appeared, he learned that Borges had written a comment on Gosse in "The Creation and P. H. Gosse" (OTHER INQUISITIONS, ISBN 0-292-76002-7). I find it amusing, if not downright bizarre, that the blurb on the back of OTHER INQUISITIONS from the "Saturday Evening Post" says, ". . . the word that best describes these essays is manly." I have seen many adjectives applied to Borges's writing, but up until now "manly" has not been one of them. ADAM'S NAVEL is one of those delightful "Penguin 60s" created for the 60th anniversary of Penguin Books.)
THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA by Harry Turtledove (ISBN 0-765-31485-1) is another in his "Crosstime Traffic" series. In this one, a teenager from our timeline is stranded in a timeline in which the Articles of Confederation were never replaced by the Constitution, and the country fell apart into many smaller countries. Aimed at a young adult audience, it has more expository lump and preaching than books aimed at an older audience, particularly on how slavery is bad, equality is good, war is bad, and a strong Constitution is better than weak Articles of Confederation. Unfortunately, the plot all this is wrapped around is pretty thin, and Turtledove makes the mistake (in my opinion) of having both his teenage characters be non-local and believe as he expects (or wants) his readers to believe. The result is that the conflict is basically the teenagers versus the adults, while in reality all the local teenagers would agree with the local adults on the basic issues. It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, to have a conflict between the boy from our universe and a girl from the Virginia part of the other universe. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A man who cannot reason is a fool, a man who will not reason is a bigot, and a man who dare not reason is a slave. -- William Drummond
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