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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/24/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 21, Whole Number 1362
Table of Contents
I Have Special Powers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Maybe the superhero comic books are not so far-fetched. I know I have special powers. I think I have a sense that the vast majority of other people do not have. I am quite serious about this.
Not long ago I was talking to a friend about animals and their ability to know when things like earthquakes and tsunamis are coming. My friend thought these stories were all folklore. I said that it was true that some animals have senses that we do not have. My friend assumed I was joking. The truth is dogs have some ability that some have called "air-tasting" that allows them to know things about their environment that we cannot detect. Where I read about this--and I am not sure where--they said that dogs have a sixth sense. Whether there is a sixth sense they have or whether they have only the same five senses and some are just more sensitive than our version is not clear.
Well, certainly, there are animals that do not have all our five senses. It is quite conceivable that we do not have all the senses that another animal might have. Brains are complex things and they are not all wired the same way. It seems to be quite likely that we do not have all the senses that exist out there.
But even within a species some members may have a sense that other people do not have. And maybe there are some that some people have that others do not. Well, let me tell you my story in this regard. When I was about seven or eight, my brother had a game called Electric Baseball. It had an electric vibrator in the board and that would make the plastic player pieces run the bases. If you drummed your fingers on the board they would move forward also. I noticed, however, that when the game was plugged in I could feel the electricity in the board.
Now what do I mean by that? If my hand was stationary I could not tell if it was getting power or not. But if I gently ran my fingertips along the metal when it was turned on I felt something that I can only call a vibrating sensation. If it was unplugged I got no vibrating sensation. I decided at first that it was somehow related to the fact that the board had a vibrator in it. Actually I now think it was just that the game had cheap wiring. Perhaps there was a small short in it. But for several years I just thought that everybody could feel electricity in some appliances.
Let us flash forward to me somewhere about age thirty. We were having problems with a refrigerator not working in our kitchen. It just did not seem to turn on. And we had some sort of a repairperson in. He said that the problem was probably that the outlet we had it plugged in. The refrigerator was probably just not getting any current. I said, no, it was getting power because I could feel it running my hand over the refrigerator. I wish I could describe the look I he gave me. He clearly thought I was a loony. Evelyn was convinced I was joking. I said, no, you know you can feel the current in some appliances when you just run your hand over them. It turned out I was right that the refrigerator was getting power, but both thought it was just a lucky guess. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Later I asked Evelyn if she could not feel the electricity in some objects. No, she said she could not and I could not either. I said it was like the fan in the other room. I could feel whether it was plugged in or not by running my hand over it, even if it was turned off. I guess wives are supposed to be skeptical of husbands. If Lois Lane actually married Superman she would probably immediately start to question whether he really could fly.
But we decided to set up a test. Evelyn would plug and unplug the fan behind my back and I would tell her by feeling the fan whether it was getting power or not. She, of course, would try to fake me out by pretending to plug in the fan when she had not or unplug it without my realizing it. Or leaving it plugged in an unplugging something else. We were going to do something like twenty trials, but Evelyn stopped it earlier when I was never wrong. She grudgingly accepted that I could feel some sort of surface current on some appliances that she could not.
I know of one other person who seems to have this power. A co- worker at Bell Laboratories said he could do the same thing. And he is someone that most people who knew him considered a reliable witness. Apparently there are some people, a small percentage, who are sensitive on that level and some who are not. I know that I am not noted for any particularly sensitive fingers in other regards. I just seem to have this one sense, a subset of the many senses to go together to make the group-sense we call "touch."
Now my question is, are there other people out there who have unusual senses that you know most other people do not have? (Okay, I know I am asking for a bunch of moonbats to come out of the woodwork, but some of you may really have special powers.) This should be something that is considered a useful sense. Detecting six-foot-tall invisible rabbits does not count. If you accept that I have this talent--which I do--any idea what proportion of the population might have it?
Or do you all think I am nuts?
Or both? [-mrl]
CASINO ROYALE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is probably the best James Bond on film and probably the best James Bond film. Daniel Craig's James Bond is gritty and mean and a lot more real, albeit still too much a superhero. He has human fallibility and he gets hurt. The story, closer than usual to the novel for a Bond film, is more like a serious spy novel and less like a children's television show. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
On the Internet some fans complained when Daniel Craig was announced as the next James Bond. He seemed wrong for the part. I was not one of them. Now there is serious discussion as to whether or not he is the best Bond. I vote that he is.
In THE ROAD TO PERDITION one of Tom Hanks's boys asks Paul Newman's troublesome son why he is always smiling. He responds "'cause it's all so f*ckin' hysterical" with a smile that chills your blood. I do not think I had ever noticed this particular actor before that though I had undoubtedly seen him. But I knew in those few seconds that I would be seeing this guy again. I did not think of him as James Bond necessarily. Actually I was rather expecting that Clive Owen would be the next Bond but when Daniel Craig was chosen I was optimistic. Daniel Craig is a guy who is not handsome in the traditional sense. And I do not want a Bond who is particularly handsome--effective spies do not draw too much attention to themselves. In most of the films Bond is a fop who can fight well. My impression of Bond from the books was that he was a thug who could wear a tuxedo. Timothy Dalton was probably my favorite Bond to this point because he looked like he could be mean. But Craig's face is craggy and a little scary at the best of times. When he smiles he looks like he is remembering tearing wings off of flies.
The Eon Production Company people (who made all the "main line" of James Bond films) have just about driven the Bond character into the ground. He had some edge in DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. But by GOLDFINGER he was back to getting a lot of lucky breaks and serendipity like he did in DR. NO. By the time YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE came along he was the world's champion at most things he tried. And ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE had the last worried looks we ever saw on his face. Well, there was some decent stuff at the very beginning of DIE ANOTHER DAY when he is held prisoner by the North Koreans, but by the middle of the film he was back to Superman, perhaps without the cape but with an invisible car. So what was the choice for the franchise? Back in the 1960s nobody wanted a hero who could kill and not feel bad. 007 with a license to kill actually killed in cold blood once in DR. NO and once in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. But times have changed and British crime films have gotten more violent with a large body count, Eon probably asked itself why hold back on the license to kill in the Bond films? The newly reborn James Bond is a much more realistic Bond who can kill in cold blood a lot more easily, and does so even before the opening credits. The sequence before the credits is done it stark black and white to establish the grittier feel before going to the bright colors of the credit sequence almost as if they are signaling a rebirth.
The credit sequence is as flashy as the old Maurice Binder sequences, but shows far less female flesh. That is in keeping with the new Bond character who is less womanizer and more action. What else is different about the new Bond? He does not come with a perfect tuxedo. He makes mistakes (big ones that damage the government). He gets hurt (frequently and painfully). He bleeds and he breathes hard after exertion. The villain is very much as Fleming wrote him. And the villain is a desperate man. The villain has real motivation. He has a mathematical mind and asthma rather than something like razor metal teeth. This is not the kind of film that will end with the Queen accidentally seeing Bond making love to the female lead. One definitely has the feeling at the end of the film that whatever happens next, it will not be lovemaking.
What is the same? Well, he is still too much of a superman in the action sequences. There are overly long chase sequences where he shows the agility of a spider monkey and the energy of strong eight men. He still is phenomenally lucky, getting just the right clue at the right time. He also has just the right piece of equipment in his car to get him out of serious trouble. It is current technology, but it is ridiculous to think that anybody carries emergency equipment like this in his car. That was plain bad writing. But not all the writing is as bad. In many ways this film makes fun of the absurdities of the older screen Bonds. (I liked Bond's reaction when asked if his martini should be shaken or stirred. The new Bond is clearly making war on the old Bond.)
The plot will be familiar to Bond fans since it is loosely based on the novel of the same title. This one is actually an origin story for James Bond. James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) has to prove himself to MI6 and M (Judi Dench) in order to get a double- 0 classification. He has to kill two people on assignment to be licensed to kill more at his discretion. One he kills with brute force and one with finesse. Vacationing afterward he gets involved with people who are involved with people who are involved with financier to terrorists Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, in the role previously played by Peter Lorre and Orson Welles). But the plan is not to kill Le Chiffre but to bankrupt him at the gaming tables. Bond is given an assistant, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), but she is definitely not a "Bond Girl." For this task MI6 funds Bond to the sum of ten million. (I do not believe we are ever told ten million what.) To any but the fans of Celebrity Poker it is difficult to make card gambling very interesting, but there is almost always something else going on at the same time.
Now what I would like to see is all the Fleming books redone in order with Craig as James Bond as he was written in the books. I wonder if we will see that. In any case this film gives us a chance to rediscover James Bond on the screen for the first time. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It is a little strange to see a Columbia logo on a James Bond film.
For those who are interested, this is my listing of the 21 Eon James Bond films from best to worst.
[NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and CASINO ROYALE (1967) are not included in this list because they are not Eon productions.]
OPAL DREAM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: When a nine-year-old's imaginary friends go missing, her father humors her by pretending to look for them and gets himself into trouble doing it. This is a somewhat low-energy telling of a simple children's story set in the opal-rich desert of Australia's Outback. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
What South Africa is for diamonds, the deserts of the southwestern Australia are for opals. Most of the opals in the world come from the town of Coober Pedy in Australia. And there is where opal hunters lead a bleak existence in the solitary profession of digging in the ground to find what are essentially pretty stones. In this dusty setting we find the Williamson family. Rex (Vince Colosimo) has a checkered past and a dream of some day hitting the jackpot by finding a treasure in opals. Meanwhile his two children lead a lonely existence. Nine-year- old Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce) is so lonely that her life revolves around her two imaginary friends Pobby and Dingan. In a manner reminiscent of HARVEY they are more real to her than the visible people around her. Somewhat over Rex's objections the family humors her giving deference to the two invented members of the family.
One day the two go with Rex to the digging. Rex's idea is to start weaning Kellyanne of her delusion by giving her a day without them. His own delusion that he will some day strike it rich maybe does more damage to the family than the imaginary friends do, but he would like the family to live with one less delusion. There is a cave-in and Rex barely escapes alive. Soon Kellyanne is informing them that Pobby and Dingan are now missing. She demands the family search for the missing friends. Kellyanne even insists that Rex search near a neighbor's mine diggings. Rex is caught trespassing and accused of "ratting." Though it is not explained, apparently ratting is stealing from someone else's diggings and is a crime hated like horse thieving or cattle rustling was in the American West. The Williamsons now have two crises: Kellyanne and the ostracism of the town. OPAL DREAM itself "rats" a little on a classic Christmas film to resolve the problems.
Peter Cattaneo, the director of the popular film THE FULL MONTY, had his work cut out for him filming the novella "Pobby and Dingan" by Ben Rice. Cattaneo and Rice co-authored the screenplay. The film is a United Kingdom and Australian co- production.
OPAL DREAM is a film that may work better in Australia than it does in the United States. The setting is not just unfamiliar to Americans, but is also an extremely uninviting one. Robert Humphreys's cinematography emphasizes the ugliness and not the beauty of the land. The setting seems more appropriate to a WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND post-Holocaust sort of story than to a children's film that is trying to sell itself on the basis of charm. Similarly, the names of the two imaginary characters Pobby and Dingan in Coober Pedy will be unfamiliar to children and lacking in the lyrical qualities that we find in the names in the "Harry Potter" sort of films. Children and adults might well have problems understanding the thick Australian accents or even realizing that in Australia Christmas comes in early summer.
This film requires some fore-knowledge and effort for the audience to be at the point they can sit back and enjoy. Any of this could be overcome by a really engaging story, but even there the film's offerings are very slight. Under the story one feels this is a subtext about a family leading an unpleasant life apparently due in large part to the father's obsession with the unrewarding profession of opal hunting. The family nurtures the delusions of two of its members. The film never really comes to terms with why the Williamson family is living this nomadic, ramshackle existence in such unappealing surroundings. In the end this film has a sort of Bret Harte tone of people in adversity making the best of it at Christmas time.
OPAL DREAM is a sentimental film, and such a film needs more charm than it evokes in the United States. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
Subtitled Books (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on subtitled books in the 11/17/06 issue of the MT VOID, Charlie Harris sends the following blog excerpt by Michael D. Lemonick:
"Anyway, I hated pigeons too, until I read a terrific new book, appropriately enough titled PIGEONS: THE FASCINATING SAGA OF THE WORLD'S MOST REVERED AND REVILED BIRD, by Andrew D. Blechman. . . . I tend to be cynical about books like this with one-word titles and grandiose subtitles. (You know the type--"Cheese: The Fermented Dairy Product that Toppled Empires"; "Elastic: The Twangy Stuff That Transformed Underwear Forever." I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide whether these particular versions of that badly overworked, copycat genre are real)."
The full blog is at: http://time.blogs.com/eye_on_science/2006/11/dont_you_just_l.html
[I don't know if cheese ever toppled empires, but I do know that it was Parmesan cheese that made Italy grate. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE WOMAN AND THE APE by Peter Hoeg, translated by Barbara Haveland (ISBN 0-374-29203-5) was chosen as the book for joint science fiction and general discussion groups meeting. (The general group meets the third Thursday of each month; the science fiction group meets the fourth Thursday. But in November the fourth Thursday is Thanksgiving, so we try to pick a science fiction book with general appeal. In 2004 it was THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde; in 2005 it was BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore.)
Anyway, someone in the general group suggested THE WOMAN AND THE APE a few months ago, so we tagged it for the joint meeting. The premise is that someone has discovered "a highly developed anthropoid ape, the closest thing yet to a human being." Adam Burden names him Erasmus and brings him back to London, where Adam's wife Madelene falls in love with Erasmus, and helps him escape. This book reminds me of a lot of books with similar themes: HIS MONKEY WIFE by John Collier, YOU SHALL KNOW THEM by Vercors, or even DAISY, IN THE SUN by Connie Willis. THE WOMAN AND THE APE, though, has a strong emphasis on how the protagonist is not understood by her spouse, etc. Lest you think it is a "males-are-bad" thing, the spouse's sister and female secretary are no prizes either. It is just another level of "humans are bad."
There are more compound and complex sentences (one might even say run-on sentences) than I usually see in novels these days. (Example: "But the world has changed, now was the time to study, present and preserve, and he had said this with the gravity that comes from knowing that your family goes back seven hundred years, that you have had splendid ancestors and that you are yourself even better." I do not know if that is true in the original Danish, or whether that is an artifact of the translation.
Hoeg has one of his characters claim, by the way, that London has more non-human animals per square mile than any other area of Great Britain, and more than "Mato Grosso in the dry season." I have no idea if this is true. I do know that this should not be read as a completely realistic novel--several plot points strain credulity beyond what would be expected in a science fiction novel. Whether it should be considered magical realism, or a fable, or what is not clear, but it is not strictly a classical science fiction novel.
THE CLUB OF ANGELS by Luis Fernando Verissimo, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (ISBN 0-8112-1500-8) is about a club of ten diners who get together once a month for a dinner. One year someone comes along who offers to cook all the dinners, but then each month one person dies right after the dinner. There are some elements of mystery in it, but it is not a traditional mystery story, nor is it as good as the author's latest book, BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS. As Verissimo's BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS, this book also has delightful cover art by Fernando Botero. This picture, "The Supper", is more matched to its book's subject matter than his "Hombre Fumando" was to BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS.
THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU by Susanna Clarke (ISBN 1-596-91251-0) is a collection of stories by the author of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL. The stories are set in the same milieu as that novel, with some of the same characters. If you liked the novel, you will like these, and if you found the novel too intimidating due to its size, these provide a more manageable introduction to that world. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. -- Anon.
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