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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/13/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 15, Whole Number 1356
Table of Contents
Readercon 17 Convention Report Available:
My Readercon 17 con report is available at:
I realize that there are sometimes bandwidth problems with that site. I have sent a copy to fanac.org and when it is posted there, I *believe* the URL will be:
Anyone who wants an email copy from me need only ask.
My Worldcon report is proceeding slowly. (I have written up two panels, and have only twenty-two more to go. :-( ) My observation between the two conventions, however, is that I took as many pages of notes for the 48-hour Readercon as for the 96-hour Worldcon. [-ecl]
Juxtaposition (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I don't know if it was intended humorously but in the October 7, 2006, issue of SCIENCE NEWS on the New Books page they list back-to-back Lee Smolin's THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS: THE RISE OF STRING THEORY, THE FALL OF A SCIENCE, AND WHAT COMES NEXT and Peter Woit's NOT EVEN WRONG: THE FAILURE OF STRING THEORY AND THE SEARCH FOR UNITY IN PHYSICAL LAW. That thread did not last long, did it? The two books are not even from the same publisher. If this whets your appetite there was an article about the two books in the New Yorker of October 2, 2006, on-line at http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/. Or read the New York Times's take from September 17 at http://tinyurl.com/jzb4b. [-mrl]
Surviving on Wings of Song (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I bring you a story of courage and the will to live one's life on ones own terms. This story comes from Hawaii. It seems on Kauai if a guy has the courage to sing in the old-fashioned way, he can be very popular. He will not be just popular, he will be a hero to both genders. But his celebrity has a price; he may not live very long. Oh, did I mention I am talking about crickets? I guess I found some powerfil drama in this story from "Science News" and "Science & Technology Daily". (The latter at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060923105230.htm.)
Five years ago just about all male crickets on Kauai sang at night. It could get very noisy. It seems male crickets sing using special scraping attachments on their wings. The female hears this sound and to her it sounds great. What a male that must be! She homes in on the male. Then they make beautiful music together and that is where little crickets come from. Well, at least that was the way it used to be. Five years ago the Ormia Ochracea fly invaded Kauai from the North American mainland. They also like the singing of crickets, but for different reasons. The females follow the song and place their larvae on a male on the backs of singing male crickets. The larvae use the crickets for food. It was not a pretty sight and it is not really very good for the crickets who were just not planning to entertain. At least they did not plan to entertain fly larvae.
So far it is just a sad story of how the singing crickets attract the wrong attention. But now mutation and evolution and fate have taken a hand. Evolution has naturally brought about a silent cricket. These crickets do not attract the flies. Survival of the fittest had brought about a solution to the problem. But, as the more alert of you may have realized, it is not quite the ideal solution the crickets might want. It seems that the while the silent crickets do not attract the killer flies, they also do not attract females. This is not the ideal solution to their problem.
So what is the solution? When the males hear a male cricket who can still sing, they also are attracted to him. They bunch up around him. The females who come for the singing cricket and find him otherwise engaged frequently will pick instead one of his non-singing followers. Now it might occur to the singing cricket that he had a good thing going for a while. His song would be the only one attracting the ladies. He would make out like a bandit... a singing bandit, I guess. But now he has all these other males as competition. They cannot sing a buzz. But presumably as the only bona fide singing cricket he has his pick of the ladies. And here they are using his call. In addition with those killer flies still on the loose, and with so few singers, this singing is suicidal. But at least it wins the brave little cricket a lot of friends and perhaps some hangers-on. I guess for a short time he is the cricket equivalent of a rock star. But like many rock stars he lives fast and dies young.
The results on the Island of Kauai are reportedly startling. Where the air used to be full of their noise, that time has passed. Now the nights are silent. People can sleep better. But when you do hear a cricket, you have to know that that is one little indomitable cricket helping his fellow crickets. He is holding a singing party and he probably is attracting a big crowd.
Of course, if the last of the singers die out from all the attention from the killer flies, the rest of the male crickets will not be able to attract females. My advice to them is to live fast, get their genes into the gene pool, die young, and leave a fly-eaten corpse. After all, it is just those few doomed singers keeping the whole race alive. When they are all gone we shall not see or hear their like again, at least not on Kauai. I guess the singing crickets are just martyrs to the survival of the race. It just gives you respect for the whole gryllida race.
And so I salute you, you last remaining singing crickets of Kauai. Your courage to sing, to continue the life force, to live your little cricket lives by your own rules, in spite of all dangers is an inspiration to us all. Jiminy Cricket, you are brave. Hail to thee! You are a better man than I am, you singing Teleogryllus Oceanicus. [-mrl]
THE DEPARTED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Martin Scorsese surprises us with a film that is more of a thriller than his previous efforts. THE DEPARTED is a close remake of a very good Hong Kong crime film. The police Special Investigations Unit, unable to bring down gangster Frank Costello, places a mole into his organization. But Costello (Jack Nicholson) has his own mole in the police SIU. Each mole tries to determine who the other is. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon play the two spies. The film takes a while to get going, but when it does it really holds the viewer. Much of the credit goes to the original film. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
[Note that this Frank Costello is apparently not *the* Frank Costello, the model for THE GODFATHER's Vito Corleone. Costello died of a heart attack in 1972, while this film is full of cell phones and contemporary cars.]
Martin Scorsese's earliest films were crime films with just a little action. They were about character and the situations his subjects got into because they were the way there were. If he had action it was in small doses at the end, as he did with TAXI DRIVER. Later, his bigger crime films like GOODFELLAS and CASINO were more lavish, but they made sparing use of real action. He tried to keep the films historically credible and used action very sparsely. His films were thrilling, but it was more intellectual excitement and less visceral. Also his films were originals. He never remade a film, though his did base THE AGE OF INNOCENCE on a novel that had been previously adapted. With THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, he turned toward having a little more action. With THE DEPARTED, he has departed very from his earlier style. He is adapting a Hong Kong action film, Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak's INFERNAL AFFAIRS. That film is an action film with a lot of blood and that rubbed off on Scorsese's remake. Scorsese holds off on the action until the last hour. THE DEPARTED is a long film, just shy of 150 minutes, and there is little other than establishing the situation that happens in the second and third half-hour. But that last hour explodes with just enough Hong-Kong-tyle action.
Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) are two rookie cops in the Boston police force in the same year. The big difference is that Sullivan has more of a taste for the finer things in life and has friends in low places. Chief among these friends is Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), crime lord of Boston. Sullivan is a promising new policeman on the executive path, but at the same time he is the eyes and ears for Frank Costello in the Massachusetts State Police. Costigan is apparently dismissed from the police academy and only two people know that he is actually still an agent for the State Police working his way into Costello's organization. For Sullivan, police work is a comfortable life with high rewards coming from both sides of the law. Costigan's life is grimy and violent as he fights to win the trust of the vile Frank Costello. He is full of self-doubts, particularly about how far to go to win Costello's confidence. Sullivan is far more comfortable with his double life.
Each side knows that there are moles in their respective organizations. The police organize a program to find trap their mole while Costello gets more frustrated and crazier with the traitor becoming an obsession with him--an itch he cannot scratch. Costello is always vulgar and violent, but with the pressure of finding his enemy he seems to be descending further into psychosis. As the cop fades into the crook and the crook fades into the cop the story works out as a game of double agent versus double agent as Sullivan and Costigan each tries to ferret out the other's identity. It almost sounds like a good spy thriller, and perhaps that is what it really is.
This is perhaps one of Matt Damon's best roles. I am not sure he is believable in the "Bourne" films, being just a little too smooth and callow, but here he is a few years older and better fit for the part. DiCaprio stretches himself with each role and in spite his stint as a teenage heartthrob has been a good actor all along. Here his role is quite reminiscent of his part in Scorsese's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, but he handles it well. Had the roles been reversed DiCaprio could have been as good as Sullivan and Damon could probably not have been believable as Costigan.
Like John Wayne, Jack Nicholson gets a lot of credit for playing very well one type of character with only modest variations. He does not stretch himself very much, and nobody seems to demand anything fresh of him. In spite of the public perception, I find it hard to think of him as being a very talented actor. Here he has some of interest in his character, but not all of it works. Scorsese shows him attending the opera, admittedly flanked by two attractive women. This minor touch of refinement fits with nothing else in his role and I am not sure why Scorsese has it in the film.
For comparison purposes I re-watched INFERNAL AFFAIRS the day after seeing THE DEPARTED. The plot is very close, and individual scenes and even some camera angles have been retained for the Scorsese version. THE DEPARTED was a little easier to follow than INFERNAL AFFAIRS was on first viewing. Jack Nicholson gives what may be a better performance than his counterpart, but it is difficult to tell because of the language and cultural differences. With 48 extra minutes Scorsese delves a little deeper into the background and motivation of his characters, but he pays a heavy price in pacing. Scorsese has more graphic violence and--if I am to believe the subtitles of THE DAPARTED--more (very) strong language. My wife pointed out how much better the two key action scenes were handled in the Hong Kong film. Scorsese conflates the two female leads into a single character and adds a male character. Those changes make for two interesting though contrived-seeming ironies. Because INFERNAL AFFAIRS originated the plot and because it has better pacing, I would say that Scorsese added surprisingly little value to the story in his remake. I would have expected more. While this is one of Scorsese's most entertaining films, I have to say much of the credit goes to INFERNAL AFFAIRS. THE DEPARTED is the bigger film in many respects, but INFERNAL AFFAIRS is the better film. Scorsese added only modest value in return for taking someone else's plot. I give the resulting film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10, but he very much shares the credit. If it is not obvious I recommend INFERNAL AFFAIRS, particularly for people who liked THE DEPARTED. [-mrl]
Fears (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In Mark's response to John Purcell's letter of comment in the 10/06/06 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote: "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]
Fred Lerner responds: "Just this morning I indexed an article that explores precisely this issue. Rather than copy its very long title (and even longer abstract) I'll direct you to http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2006.01.008 where you can see them." [-fl]
[The article is titled "Human brain evolution and the 'Neuroevolutionary Time-depth Principle:' Implications for the Reclassification of fear-circuitry-related traits in DSM-V and for studying resilience to warzone-related posttraumatic stress disorder".]
So Mark adds, "Oh, is that what that article is about? (How could you tell?)" [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Just a note: when I retired in July 2001, my "to-read" list had 145 books on it, and I estimated it would take fourteen months to read them. However, since I kept buying books, and checking them out from the library, and borrowing them, and having "assigned reading" or two book discussion groups *and* the Sidewise jury, at times it seemed like the "marching Chinese." However, I have been diligent and now, five years and three months later, my "to-read" list is down to 70 books, which I estimate to be four-months' worth (because I have more time to read).
SLIPSTREAMS edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (ISBN 0-7564-0357-X) is a collection of original "slipstream" stories. However, since "slipstream" is such a vague term, this is really just a general original anthology, with the one limitation that you probably would not find a story that was strictly within a sub-genre (e.g., military science fiction) in it. For example, "Biding Time" by Robert J. Sawyer is a straight-forward mystery set on Mars, "Venting" by Alan Dean Foster and "From Gehenna" by Isaac Szpindel are fantasies, and so on. There are some that I would call meta-fiction, which may be a subset of slipstream (e.g., "Critical Analysis" by Tanya Huff and "Psycho Physics" by Donald J. Bingle). It's a mixed bag, but has the advantage of giving the reader a variety of stories, rather than the repetition one finds in a theme anthology.
GRANTVILLE GAZETTE II edited by Eric Flint (ISBN 1-416-52051-1) does not have this advantage--it consist entirely of stories set in (and non-fiction about) Eric Flint's "1632" universe. (This began with the novel 1632 in which a chunk of current-day West Virginia is suddenly transported to Europe in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, and has been continued in several books and stories.) The stories all assume a familiarity with the earlier works, and the whole thing seems to have become very self-contained, with special electronic bulletin boards established by Baen Books, including one that Flint requires all story submissions be posted to before he will even consider them for publication. In addition, the proofreading is execrable, with such errors as 'a next thing' instead of 'a near thing', and several spots where two words are run together.
I wrote in the 09/22/06 issue of the MT VOID about how Miss Marple had been shoe-horned into the "Masterpiece Theater" production of Agatha Christie's BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS. For that, though, they at least kept the basic story. For Christie's THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY (American title, MURDER AT HAZELMOOR) (ISBN 0-312-97981-9), they not only added Miss Marple, but also changed three of the "Five W's" (who, what, when, where, and why). (I will not say which ones, so as not to give too many spoilers.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions. -- Naguib Mahfouz
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