MT VOID 10/27/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 17, Whole Number 1358

MT VOID 10/27/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 17, Whole Number 1358


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/27/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 17, Whole Number 1358

Table of Contents

      El Presidente: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

Science Fiction Magazine Cover Art:

Great images from the 1950s to the present, with over 1500 covers from the Italian science fiction magazine URANIA at http://www.mondourania.com/urania/uraniaelencopagine.htm.


THE DEPARTED (correction):

In response to Mark's article on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted in his further comments on THE DEPARTED in the 10/20/06 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

"The Wikipedia article states 'the list itself has no particular ranking.' The list in the Wikipedia article is sorted by the date each person was added to the most wanted list (or by 'sequence number', which results in the same order). The list on the FBI site is presented in two columns of five people each, and is not in sequence." [-dk]

Mark replies, "You got me." [-mrl]


Political Gas (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The response to the problem in Iraq breaks down by political wing. The difference between a liberal and a conservative is that if a liberal finds her house has radon gas she will just complain bitterly that the house should never have been built where it was. A conservative would actively try to find the gas so he could shoot it. [-mrl]


Mathematics and Science Update (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This week I wanted to follow up on a couple of previous articles in the fields of mathematics and science. In the 07/01/05 issue of the MT VOID I was weighing in on the question of whether mathematics is invented or discovered. The article may be found at:

http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/2005/VOID0701.htm#math

I am recently read Ian Stewart's LETTERS TO A YOUNG MATHEMATICIAN. He says some things relevant to that subject, though he does not really agree or disagree. Still, he waffles fairly eloquently:

"A mathematical circle, then is something more than a shared delusion. It is a concept endowed with extremely specific features; it 'exists' in the sense that human minds can deduce other properties from those features, with the crucial caveat that if two minds investigate the same question, they cannot, by correct reasoning, come up with contradictory answers.

"That's why it feels as if math is 'out there.' Finding the answer to an open question feels like discovery, not invention. Math is a product of human minds, but not bendable to human will. Exploring it is like exploring a new tract of country; you may not know what is around the next bend in the river, but you don't get to choose. You can only wait and find out. But the mathematical countryside does not come into existence until you explore it."

I am not sure I agree with the last statement if what you are going to find is pre-determined. Does the world of mathematics actually exist beyond humanity's collective field of vision? I think it is akin to solipsism to say that it does not. In addition I rebel at saying that mathematics is all in the mathematicians' collective mind but physics is really is "out there." If it were truly invented it could be invented any way we want.

The other update is a little more satisfying. As some of you might know I have had a long-standing question about DNA that I would think would be basic to Biology 101, yet surprisingly few biologists can answer. DNA is a double helix. It is like a ladder that corkscrews. When it comes time for the DNA to reproduce each of the rungs of the ladders breaks along the whole length of the DNA. The two long strands float apart, each with the near half of each of the rungs.

Most of us have seen illustrations of how the two strands floating apart. It seems nice and simple. That is because in the illustration they show you only a short stretch of DNA. DNA is a double helix, a pair of strands twisted around each other many thousands of turns. It is like the fibers in sewing thread twisted around each other. They seem like they cannot just drift apart without a whole lot of untwisting. And the problem is more complex than that since the strands of the double helix have kinks. In fact the kinks may be their own code. (See the 08/04/06 issue of the MT VOID at http://www.geocities.com/ evelynleeper/VOID0804.htm#dna). We are talking about two strands really tangled together suddenly just drifting apart. It seems impossible topologically.

Now, most people with a scientific background I have asked said that there is no problem. An enzyme separates them. And for them that explains it all. It is surprising how many people think that enzymes have the power to suspend the laws of topology and exempt themselves from the laws of mathematics, in general.

So as a leisure-time activity I have been putting the words "topology" and "DNA" (if that can be called a word) into Google and finding who have done published papers on the topology of DNA. I would then send the authors e-mail asking how DNA strands manage to extricate themselves from the tangle. If I got answers at all I was told that an enzyme does it. When I followed up with the latter group re-emphasizing that somehow these two strands had to untangle suddenly the line would go dead. You would think that this is one of the early questions that people-- including Watson and Crick--would ask. I was fast realizing that there are certain issues raised in a standard biology education and beyond those issues most people do not think about things that they do not think about," to borrow a phrase from "Inherit the Wind".

Well, finally I found a biologist who really does think about things the others don't think about. I will leave his name off just because I don't want to bother him further and do not want to quote him without his permission. But what apparently happens sounds almost magical. There is little if any unwinding. The enzyme topoisomerase breaks strands, lets other strands pass through, and then rejoins the strands. That answers the topology question. As my correspondent's e-mail message is below. I am only slightly embarrassed to say he over-estimates my capabilities.

"Dear Mark,

"In the cell this process (strand separation) would be mediated by a type I topoisomerase that permits one strand to pass through a transient break in another strand. This has been demonstrated numerous ways.

"However to get at the real quandary you are concerned about, you might look in the literature to see if people have measured the kinetics of strand separation of two strands as a function of the length of the molecules in the absence of a topoisomerase. This would be a very hard measurement to make because you would have to subject the DNA to some force that would separate the two strands and then measure the rate of the separation. I have never heard of such experiments, but that does not mean someone has not tried and published it.

"If they haven't published this kind of experiment, then it would be an interesting one to do. I could imagine both single molecule approaches as well as population approaches to doing this experiment. They would all hinge on pulling one strand in one direction and the other strand in the other direction under some molecular force. Perhaps covalently attaching one strand to a solid support and attracting the other strand away by an electostatic field (electorphoresis) under denaturing conditions.

"If you could measure the rate of strand separation as a function of length (one twist per 10 base pairs) you could get a measure of how the rate of strand separation depended on the number of twists in the DNA.

"Try it."

On his last bit, it would have to be one separation per twist or one separation per ten base pairs. That seems like a good firm answer. [-mrl]


THE PRESTIGE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Toward the end of the 19th century two rival stage magicians compete and battle for dominance. This is a thriller, an education in stage magic, a mystery, and even a bit of a science fiction film. Christopher Priest's novel is brought to the screen by co-writer and director Christopher Nolan in a wonderful screen adaptation. This is a film that may be more enjoyable on the second viewing once you know its secrets. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

"Are you watching closely?"

In London near the end of the 19th Century two stage magicians, once friends, carry on a deadly rivalry. The cause is professional competition and an escalating ladder of revenge for believed wrongs. At the center of the controversy is one stage illusion and the attempts to perform it. The trick gives the illusion that the performer is instantly transported from the stage to another part of the theater (like something from THE FLY). The film is told in flashback after the death of one of the feuding magicians, Robert Angier (played by Hugh Jackman), apparently murdered by his nemesis Alfred Borden (very effectively played by Christian Bale).

The film then traces the relationship of these two one-time friends and concurrent apprentices to a veteran illusionist Milton (a cameo by Ricky Jay) and his designer called just Cutter (Michael Caine). With reckless ambition Borden is convinced, somewhat justifiably, that he is a great magician. Then perhaps unintentionally in one quick stroke he destroys Angier's life and Milton's career. From there an epic feud starts. Angier is suave and looks really good in front of an audience, but he is second rate at inventing new illusions. Borden is brilliant but lacks the panache to exploit it. Between them they could make the perfect stage illusionist. Instead they want each other out of the way, but even more than that they want the secret of each other's tricks.

The feud will embroil the stage assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) who will be the confidante to both men consecutively. It will also involve a real wizard--not one of fiction--the great engineer Nikola Tesla (played with surprising Eastern European charm by David Bowie), who may have his own electrical magic, and who is himself involved in a historic parallel feud with Thomas Alva Edison.

The hostility between Angier and Borden, a study in obsession, will be dangerous to both. The life of a stage illusionist often ends in sudden death. The tightness of a knot or the placement of a prop can mean the difference between life and death. A button falling into the wrong place can be deadly. Another magician can turn a stage performance into an undetectable murder. And the coveted secrets of tricks can be the motive for murder. A magician's audience can be unaware that they are witnessing a deadly battle.

"Are you watching closely?"

Through some of the script may seem to be only slowly advancing the plot, that is part of the illusion. Between Christopher Priest's plot from the novel and Jonathan and Christopher Nolan's adaptation, little if anything is wasted in the plot or dialog. On a second viewing many of the lines of dialog will take on whole new meanings. A second viewing may well be a very different experience than a first viewing. As a bonus, along the way this film is as much an education about the stagecraft of legerdemain as MASTER AND COMMANDER was of early 19th century seafaring.

Two films on the subject of late 19th century stage magic being released only weeks-apart invites comparison. The film THE ILLUSIONIST also deals with stage magic about the same period. THE PRESTIGE is a somewhat longer film, but it is considerably more intricate and more satisfying. THE PRESTIGE is taken from a very good book, but where the Nolan brothers have deviated from the book they have worked their own magic. Both films include plot elements that were impossible for the period. THE PRESTIGE is honest in its fantasy elements and THE ILLUSIONIST is not. I thing that gives THE PRESTIGE another edge. I recommended THE ILLUSIONIST a few weeks ago, and I still do, but in many respects it pales next to THE PRESTIGE. I rate this complex and clever puzzle story a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. [-mrl]


INFAMOUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is an account of Truman Capote's investigation of the "In Cold Blood" murders. Capote maneuvers people and events for his own purposes. The film is as strangely unfocused as its title is. Several of the artistic decisions weaken the film. A good performance by Daniel Craig is perhaps the film's major asset. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

This is the story of Truman Capote (played by Toby Jones) writing his "non-fiction novel" IN COLD BLOOD about the 1959 murders of the Herbert Clutter family from Holcomb, Kansas. Capote manipulates people and events to make the book better, but with apparently little real care for the people involved in the crime and its solution. Capote dresses in a near-feminine style and talks in an almost baby-like manner, but he is able to play people to get the results he wants. Here he wants to get to know the captured killers of the Clutter family: Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) and to know the police who caught them. The story is of Capote using charm to be admitted into the inner circle of the people important to the story and using them.

It seems that director Douglas McGrath wanted to make a movie of substantial length, just a minute or two short of two hours, but did not have enough story to fill that time, as incredible as that seems. Much of the film seems like time filler. The film opens with Kitty Dean (Gwyneth Paltrow) singing a sad version of Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love". In the middle she pauses as if pondering some sad memory, after a pause she regains her composure and starts singing again, finishing the song. What is her sorrow? What does this have to do with anything? Well, shortly we see that she is a friend of Capote, but we do not even hear their conversations. Then she drops out of sight not to be heard from again. Why are we shown this? Later we see Capote's elite friends trying this new dance, The Twist. Anything positive that this sequence could have added could have been added with a line of dialog. Watching middle- aged celebrities doing The Twist--and the film seems to cast modern celebrities as the celebrities of that time--speaks of a director stalling.

Toby Jones's performance as Capote is just insufficient to carry this film. In the early parts of the film it should convey comedy, in the latter parts tragedy, and Jones just is not able to make us feel either. He may be a good character actor, but in this film he is out of his depth. His short stature and his peculiar voice kept reminding me of the mad scientist in children's cartoons. Sandra Bullock as Nelle Harper Lee seems to fade into the background. The strongest performance is by Daniel Craig who is by turns fragile and mean. I remember him best as Paul Newman's cynical, trouble-making son in THE ROAD TO PERDITION. He frequently plays roles well and has a hard edge, though I liked him as poet Ted Hughes in SYLVIA. He is, of course, James Bond in the upcoming CASINO ROYALE. Juliet Stevenson is supposedly playing Diana Vreeland but her mannerisms were what I thought could have been an extremely good impression of Lauren Bacall.

The title INFAMOUS is a peculiar choice since at this point nobody in the film is particularly infamous. Capote was known more for eccentricity than for infamy. The killers were not particularly well-known yet either.

I have gone this long without mentioning that this is, of course, the second film to cover this subject matter. I did not want that to influence this review, but some comparison should be made. INFAMOUS was doomed by bad luck since the inception of the production. Had this been the only film on the subject of Capote's actions it would have been a reasonably interesting account, though still very flawed. The fact that well into the production the producers found that there was another film being made on the same narrow subject and that it would be a first class production had to have given the producers some bad nights. The release of INFAMOUS was delayed a year so as not to be too close to the release of CAPOTE. The producers could not beat CAPOTE to release so the best they could manage was the year delay. I think the fact that CAPOTE got the first release first helped that film to some small degree, but it was an absolute disaster for INFAMOUS.

Toby Jones's performance here as Capote seems more of a caricature. Philip Seymour Hoffman in CAPOTE created a much more interesting character. Where characterizations are different they are less believable here. Perry Smith is almost an intellectual and a frustrated artist in INFAMOUS, inconsistent with all other versions to this point. Daniel Craig had his work cut out for him trying to play both an artist and a cold-blooded killer. Most accounts say that Capote really did have a sort of charm. In this film he cannot get people interested in him until he starts name-dropping. Then people are not so much interested in Capote as in the Hollywood stars he knows. This film delivers far less than CAPOTE did with much less of a feeling of plausibility. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. [-mrl]


THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: What sounded like a promising premise turns into a gratuitous exercise in not-very-interesting surrealism. There may or may not be a complete story underneath all of this, but if there is, it is probably dull and not worth digging for. A young man returning to France after many years in Mexico finds his dreams mixing with reality until we lose interest sorting one from the other and putting together his story. Writer/director Michael Gondry bets his film that the viewer will be so engrossed in his characters and images, they will not mind having the rug pulled form under them time and again. He loses that bet. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

It is certainly possible to have a story in which it is sometimes difficult to know what is dream and what is reality. But as soon as there are dream images in a sequence one must assume we are seeing a dream. However, nearly all sequences of THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP have something to indicate that sequence is a dream. It becomes a tiresome effort to sort dream from reality and even if one succeeds and there is enough non-dream to piece together a story, the best we would have for a plot is a tiresome romance. Lovers break up and get back together. It is hardly worth the effort.

Writer/director Michael Gondry (director of the much better ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) does not even seem to understand how dreams work. Dreams are frequently surrealistic, but not all surrealism is necessarily dreamlike. I am reminded of Peter Dinklage's character's complaint in LIVING IN OBLIVION. He has been cast to play in a dream sequence being filmed but walks off the set complaining that they feel they need a dwarf for a dream sequence. He himself is a dwarf, but says that even he does not dream about dwarves. However, films rarely get the real feel of dreams, at least my dreams, correctly. Maybe some people do have weird dreams like something out of Fellini or Cocteau or Dali, but I know I do not. My dreams may have some strange situations, but the surroundings do not look visually very surreal. Perhaps your dreams are different.

Stéphane (played by Gael García Bernal of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN and THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) returns from many years in Mexico to Paris to live in the apartment house his mother (Miou-Miou) owns and to get a job as a creative artist. He gets a job in a company that makes calendars. The work is drudgery and not at all what he wanted. His boss feigns some interest in his creative calendar designs but wisely are not willing to commit to using those ideas. His big idea is a calendar that commemorates great disasters. Along the way he discovers that he is attracted to his neighbor and a friend of hers. The neighbor is Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend is Zoe (Emma de Caunes). The similarity of names suggests that Stéphanie may be just some part of Stéphane if this is all a dream. But then maybe she is not. Both have the same hobby of making homemade stuffed animals, and that is a foundation for a firm friendship.

It is hard to tease even this much story from the film because we keep discovering what we are seeing is one dream after another. Stéphane dreams repeatedly that he is the host of a television show that is about his life. The name of the program or perhaps the station is Stephanet. Each night he sees his life from the vantage point of this television show. Some scenes we know are dream sequences and some we are not sure. Much of the film seems to be made up of little skits involving the characters. Suddenly Stéphane will have hands that are three feet long. His friends from work are fairly surreal even in scenes that may not be dream sequences.

What does this film all mean? What has really happened in the real world of the film? To paraphrase Freud, sometime a self-indulgent, disorganized collection of scenes is just a self-indulgent, disorganized collection of scenes. I rate THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. [-mrl]


FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A film that I expected to enjoy strikes me as 132 minutes of little more than diatribe and violence. This is the story of how the Marines took Iwo Jima in World War II and specifically how the picture of planting the flag was taken and became a classic image. We are told repeatedly that it made heroes out of the wrong people. Also it is the story of how the public fell in love with the famous photograph and how the United States government exploited that appeal. The film is stylistically directed and filmed, but the anger and cynicism of the script, even if accurate, is just unpleasant. With more restraint this could have been a much better film. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

This is the story of the men who fought on Iwo Jima in the last part of the Pacific War. One of the most famous photographic images of the war was the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The United States government used that image to sell war bonds and to stir patriotism. This film goes back and forth showing us how terrible the fighting was and showing the story of the three men who were elected heroes for the raising of the flag. They were used on a Bond Tour. It also tells us what happened to these men in later years. The film begins by saying that history can be very wrong in the people it chooses to be designated heroes (and its villains). It then spends the rest of the film making that point repeatedly. We are also told that one picture can win a war. Certainly the film demonstrates that one visual image can have a powerful effect, even if it is a false symbol of victory. None of this is so surprising that it needs so much proof.

I am going to go out on a limb on this one. I have a lot of respect for Clint Eastwood as a film director, and I know that a lot of people are going to like FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. I had very high expectations, which may not have been entirely fair. Further, my natural opinions are probably little cynical about the military and government, though I have a great deal of respect for the common soldier in the wars we have fought. I agree with the politics of this film all the way. But I think Eastwood could have used a subtitle 43 REASONS *NOT* TO BE PROUD OF THE IWO JIMA IMAGE.

This is a long film and a large part of it is a barrage of attacks on the poor benighted souls who venerate the famous image of raising the flag on Mount Suribachi that was used to rally the American people. I was not alive at that time and I never was all that impressed by the image. In this film we learn among other things: (1) The image we see was not from the real raising of the flag but was merely part of a ploy to keep the original piece of fabric. (2) The people who were supposedly in the picture are not the same set of people identified by the press. (3) The raising of the flag was not at the point of victory on Iwo Jima but actually early in the battle. (4) The people who raised the flag were less heroic and in less danger than the people fighting down below were. (6) The United States government exploited the popularity of the image to earn money for the war. (7) Once the government used the people in the picture, they were more or less discarded. And the list goes could go on.

If our minds were not already numbed by that list of charges, it is by the violent images of the terrifying fighting that was going on in the taking of the island. The realistic and intense horror of warfare was a revelation when we saw it in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and in BAND OF BROTHERS. But both of those films showed the viewer the horrors in a relatively short sequence which then ended, the point being made, and the story continued. [Interestingly, this film and those two were all at least produced by Steven Spielberg.] Perhaps that is not realistic, but it allows the audience to breathe a sigh of relief when it is over. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS has its horrifying and intense scenes peppered throughout the film and seems forever returning to show us the carnage at unpleasantly close range. The gunfire also was very loud--at least in the theater I attended. This is a darn unpleasant film to watch.

When we are not on the battlefield we see how the government exploited the so-called heroes and then essentially threw them away, all the while using the famous image over and over for its effect. I certainly hope that some of the images Eastwood uses have some basis in fact, like the serving of ice cream molded in the shape of the image and then doused in blood-red strawberry syrup. If that was an invention for the film, it is an egregious one. In any case, I thought this film was 132 minutes of mostly diatribe relieved by only one sequence in which we are told why the War Bond Drive that exploited the flag-raisers was desperately needed for the war effort. The film also makes some very valid points the maltreatment of Ira Hayes (played by Adam Beach of WINDTALKERS) and Native Americans in general.

Director Clint Eastwood seems to go overboard in using a stylistic color palette. The film always uses muted colors. In the battle scenes they are muted all the way down to a near monochrome. Only objects to be emphasized appear in fuller color. This will usually be the flame of an explosion. Even off the battlefield, sets are under-lit, at times giving a film noir effect. Visually the effects strike me as manipulative and perhaps a bit pretentious. Scenes of the armada of the American forces look as digital as I am sure they had to be.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS made many valid points. I cannot fault it on that. But it just makes too much of a muckraking case too well for too much screen time. Less diatribe, less violence, a more restrained color palette manipulation and this could have been a good film. It just overdoes everything that it does. The same case could have been made with a little more finesse and style. Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY, for example, is just as cynical and is more powerful. This film makes its points in the first five minutes and then just keeps repeating them with little restraint. I rate FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS a very disappointing 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. [-mrl]


Technology and CATHOLICS (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):

In response to Mark's article on the mystique of 1950s science fiction films in the 10/20/06 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph T. Major writes:

Having movies reflect that science had changed the world was not unprecedented.

In 1870, technology changed the world--the Prussian army decisively defeated the French army. It had been universally accepted that the French had the best army in the world. Certainly it was larger than its opponent's.

But the Prussian army was superior both in "hard" technology--its rifles and artillery--and "soft" technology--staff coordination, use of trains, and so on.

This created a realization that technology did matter. So, others started imagining how that might affect their world. Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney of the Bengal Engineers wrote a book about how those advances in technology might overcome Britain's natural advantages: THE BATTLE OF DORKING (1871). It was one of the first of many "future war" books.

Chesney was punished for his impudence by being promoted, eventually to full general, given several honours, capped by a Knighthood of the Bath (K.C.B.), and was elected to Parliament in 1892. [-jtm] =

And in response to Evelyn's review of CATHOLICS in the same issue, Joe writes, "I saw CATHOLICS when it was first shown. As I recall, the Catholic Church in the movie/book was considering a merger with a Buddhist sect. You couldn't do that these days." [-jtm]

[You pretty much remember correctly, though whether it was an actual merger or just joining with them in a sort of association a la the United Nations was not clear. I had the impression it was more the latter, with the each remaining in charge of its internal affairs, but an over-arching governing body also exercising some control. -ecl]


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

I just read MISS MARPLE: THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES by Agatha Christie (ISBN 0-425-09486-3). I had probably read most, if not all, of these before, but it had been a long time ago. What struck me most was how different the Miss Marple of the stories was from how she has been portrayed on screen. Margaret Rutherford was completely different--too large, too athletic, and so on. But even the portrayal in the 1980s BBC series by Joan Hickson is way off. In "The Blue Germanium", Christie describes Miss Marple thusly: "Mrs. Bantry ... fixed her gaze on the very upright old lady sitting on her husband's right. Miss Marple wore black lace mittens; an old lace fichu was draped round her shoulders and another piece of lace surmounted her white hair." Hickson dresses in a much more modern fashion, and does not ramble on about her knitting as much as she does in these stories. Admittedly, the latter characteristic does not appear in the novels, where Miss Marple takes a much more active role. The short stories, however, are entirely "thought exercises"--a group of people sitting around trying to solve a mystery they have been told. And even Christie seems to acknowledge that the image of Miss Marple has to be modified to allow her to be an effective main character in a novel. The Miss Marple of "The Blue Germanium" could never do what is done by the Miss Marple of (say) A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED.

THE UNEXPECTED GUEST by Agatha Christie and Charles Osborne (ISBN 0-312-97512-0) is not actually by Christie--it is by Osborne, based on a play by Christie. As such, it is much "thinner" than most Christie novels, and the solution is actually fairly predictable. Because it started out as a play, it has a much smaller cast of characters than the usual Christie novel, which in turn makes solving the mystery a bit easier. And because Osborne does not flesh it out very much, it is only about 50,000 words long--very short for a novel these days.

Our discussion group read NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen (ISBN 0-375-75917-4) this month. Although the basic plot is very similar to other Austen works, the style is not--it is a send-up of all the conventions of the Gothic novel, and to some extent those of her own novels. For example, when our heroine s forced to sit out a dance for lack of a partner, Austen writes:

"She could not help being vexed at the non-appearance of Mr. Thorpe, for she not only longed to be dancing, but was likewise aware that, as the real dignity of her situation could not be known, she was sharing with the scores of other young ladies still sitting down all the discredit of wanting a partner. To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the misconduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine's life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character."

The one question none of us could definitely answer was how "Northanger" was supposed to be pronounced. Is it "north-anger" or "nor-thanjer" or what?

In preparation for the upcoming movie, I re-read THE PRESTIGE by Christopher Priest (ISBN 0-312-85886-8). The movie has many changes from the novel, yet the basic structure and underpinnings are kept intact. What changes were made to the script were made to tighten up the story (hence, for example, the elimination of all but the first generation of Angiers and Bordens), or to make it more visually understandable, or to add additional twists. What is important to note is that in spite of the changes, the film will not disappoint fans of the book. I do not want to say too much, because I want those unfamiliar with the book to go into the movie fresh, so I will just say that I highly recommend both. [-ecl]



                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net


Quote of the Week:

           Impossible is a word only to be found 
           in the dictionary of fools.
                                          -- Napoleon Bonaparte

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