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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/15/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 24, Whole Number 1365
Table of Contents
If you discovered that you starting receiving the MT VOID last week after a long gap, it is almost definitely because your mail system has been rejected previous issues as spam *without* sending any indication of a bounce back to us. And this is probably because it thinks that the site where the back issues are kept is a spam generator. So if you want back issues, they are at aitch tee tee pee, colon slash slash, double-you double-you double-you dot, gee ee oh see eye tee eye ee ess dot, see oh em slash, and then my name [evelynleeper]. [-ecl]
KING KONG Plot Hole (film comment by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been a fan of the original KING KONG for something like half a century now. In that time I have seen the film dozens of times. I love the film. But just this week it occurs to me that there is a major problem in the script. Carl Denham has to run out to find a female lead so that his film will have "love interest." He chooses Ann Darrow as his leading lady and goes off to make his film taking Ann. Fine. My question is how is he going to get his love interest into the film? He apparently forgot all about taking along a leading man. [-mrl]
How to Cheat-Read (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have a confession to make. I have recently started doing what I call "cheat-reading" of certain books. I really like cheat- reading books. Particularly because I have a house with 20,000 books and by cheat-reading I can get to a lot more of them.
A few months back I wrote an editorial about the way I had stumbled onto for graphing the plot and interactions of a story. I came upon this method sitting waiting for a lesser-known Shakespeare play--one of the histories--whose plot I had not seen before. There was a program book had a summary of the plot, knowing that it would be unfamiliar to many in the audience. I had a while before the play was to start and on the spot I invented a way to commit to paper the plot I was reading. It worked amazingly well.
Recently necessity was again the mother of invention for me. I invented or discovered or re-discovered a way to "cheat-read" a book and make it a better and faster read than sitting down and reading it at normal speed. I call it "cheat-reading." It actually makes it more fun to read a book.
Here is how I came up with it. A friend had recommended to me the book THE SHADOW DIVERS by Robert Kurson. It sounded good so I got from the library an unabridged reading of this book on CD. With a portable CD player I listened to the entire book while working around the house. I liked the book and recommended it to a book discussion group I attend, and they chose the book to read. Now I wanted to refresh my memory as to what was in the book. But I did not want to take the time to read the entire book that I had already read (or heard read). I hit upon a way to just refresh my memory about what was in the book without actually taking the time to read it in the traditional sense.
This is what I did. I committed to reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. If I found the sentence interesting I would skim the rest of the paragraph. If it were really interesting I would read the entire paragraph. I also could just go on to the second sentence and then make that choice again how to read the rest. That's it. It was just a formal way of skimming the book, I suppose, but I made sure I got to every paragraph. Basically, I commit to reading the first sentence of each paragraph and then however much more and at however much depth seems appropriate.
Now this technique is "cheating" I suppose. Obviously you miss some of the material of the book reading it that way. I might not do this if I was expected to know everything in the book. I do not suggest that you should try this reading technique on HOW TO OPERATE YOUR NUCLEAR REACTOR. But I might do it in my pleasure reading. Even with an exciting book like SHADOW DIVERS there were long stretches of detail that were only vaguely of interest. The book got most of its dramatic impact from some sections and very little from others. By cheat-reading the less interesting portions went by very quickly since I was reading only one sentence per paragraph. The more interesting sections became a much larger proportion of my reading time. When I got to the end of the book I found I had gotten as much enjoyment reading it this way as I had listening to the book. I remembered no details from the longer reading that I did not pick up from the cheat-reading of the book. If anything I think the book actually got better by reading it this accelerated fashion. I remember that when I started I felt that I was cheating, but by the end of the book I had totally forgotten who it was who was being cheated. If a reader you can get the point that the author is making, that is the important part, not necessarily the completeness of reading every word of the book.
I enjoyed by cheat-reading of SHADOW DIVERS. About this time I also borrowed form the library the book STRANGE ANGEL by George Pendle. It is a true biography of John Whiteside Parsons a man who was a rocket scientist (literally) and also was into black magic and science fiction and knew some of the major figures of 20th Century science fiction. As I frequently do, I procrastinated getting to the book until there was not enough time to read it before the book was due back at the library. Still, the book interested me, so I asked myself why not try the new technique it. Okay, by cheat-reading it I missed some of the technical detail of rocket engineering. I probably would not have remembered those details anyway. I think all of the interesting (and salacious) details came through loud and clear. The book took less time to read than an honest reading would have taken. If I missed something important I would not know since I have not read the whole book. But as an entertainment experience reading the book was probably just as good as if I had given it a close read.
Good writing actually lends itself to cheat-reading. Most writers are taught that they should write paragraphs that have topic sentences. The topic sentence summarizes the paragraph and is most often the first sentence of the paragraph. Good topic sentences almost beg to be cheat-read. If you read those summaries they tell you if you are interested in this paragraph or not. Now not all authors are careful to write topic sentences. I admit that my writing is more conversational and I tend to forget them. A good writer will remember to use them. Even if the writer is not so careful, you still get a good sample of the paragraph by reading the first sentence and deciding if you want to continue on through the paragraph. My method works for me at least as well as a Reader's Digest condensation of a book. (Does Reader's Digest still condense books?) I have frequently seen books and wished I could find a good article that covered the same material in more concise form. Cheat-reading works for me as well as if I had.
Cheat-reading seems to work for me on non-fiction books, and there are a lot of non-fiction books that I am tempted to read. I wish I could devote the time to read more of these books. Now I have a better shot. I have not yet tried cheat-reading a fiction book. But I wanted to pass this idea on to people. Maybe other people will want to try it. Maybe other people have or will have their own version. [-mrl]
APOCALYPTO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is history with more than a little Grand Guignol. At times the view of the ancient Mayan civilization is engaging and unique, but it in no way should it be thought to be historically accurate, in spite of director Mel Gibson's use of the original Mayan language. Conflating two periods of Mayan history several centuries apart, it is the story of an intended human sacrifice running for his life while chased by implacable Mayans. Mel Gibson needs a much better scriptwriter than Mel Gibson. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10.
Spoiler warning: I at least hint at some of the plot of the film.
The Mayan Empire grew from about the year 400 to 900. At their height they became a people very advanced in science. Mayan notation for numbers made arithmetic easier for Mayan children than our numbers make it for our children. The Dresden Codex shows that they may not have understood exactly what eclipses were, but they knew when they were coming.
The empire became corrupt and fell in the years from 900 to the end of its power and the abandonment of its cities about 1200. So most--not all, but most--of APOCALYPTO takes place somewhere in the time from 1000 to 1200. I say "most" because Mel Gibson's script for his own film brings together widely separated periods of the past more or less like the movies that have cavemen fighting dinosaurs. The script, which Gibson co-authored with his co-producer Farhad Safinia, is a reworking of the old Cornell Wilde classic THE NAKED PREY. Along the way Gibson and Safinia paste in sequences they may have gotten from THE NAKED PREY, THE KILLING FIELDS, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT, and even WATERSHIP DOWN. To give the film an air of authenticity--one it really has no right at all to claim--Gibson films the entire film in the Mayan language. This is probably a first for a general release film and as such the film is to be commended. (According the to IMDB, the 2003 film VERA was also entirely in Maya, and parts of EL NORTE, MEN WITH GUNS, and this year's THE FOUNTAIN are in Maya.) But much of the air is lost when he has subtitles having Mayans saying modern things like "He's f**ked" and even making a verbal reference to MIDNIGHT COWBOY.
The film is the story of Jaguar Paw (played by Rudy Youngblood). He is an unassuming sort of guy who has mother-in-law problems and little respect from the rest of his tribe. He knows that other tribes in the area are fearful of something, but never bothers to find out what until it becomes clear. Suddenly his world is turned upside-down when his tribe is attacked by local Mayans. He hides his pregnant wife and son in a cistern hoping to pull them to safety when the attack has passed. It does not pass and most of his tribe is killed. Jaguar Paw is lashed to a pole and marched with others of his tribe to a Mayan city. He comes to realize that he is to be a sacrifice to entertain a crowd. Luckily fate smiles on him and he finds himself running for his life with ten or so Mayan warriors chasing him through the forest.
The plot is full of absurdities. Jaguar Paw has had a spear go into his back and come out his front. This should be a fatal injury. But he escapes and still has the strength to outrun a jaguar. (Well, unless there are black jaguars that I don't know about, it is actually a panther that has somehow found herself on the wrong continent.) A jaguar is not the fastest cat, but it probably can do 35 miles per hour in sprints and the wounded Jaguar Paw is apparently able to do better than that. Jaguar Paw is light on his feet and light in general. At least he is light enough to float in water. His wife, however, appears to be heavier than water for reasons never explained. (And, no, pregnancy would not have this effect.)
Mel Gibson the director is probably cheating himself by employing Mel Gibson the writer. His script is largely warmed-over bits from other films. However, this is a production designer's and art director's film. Though most of the film takes place in the forest, Tom Sanders and Roberto Bonelli have given us a very nice representation of what a Mayan city would have looked like and some of the feel of what it must have been like to be in one. However, Gibson then makes life in the city seem a revelry and orgy, not a lot different from the decadence in Fellini's SATYRICON or perhaps the Golden Calf sequence in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. There is one major difference. This revelry includes human sacrifices, which Gibson shows us in loving detail, having the priest grab the still-beating heart and tastefully hold it out for a camera close-up. (Thank Kukulk'an the film is not in 3-D!)
Gibson has openly said that the film was made to show parallels between a civilization that has human religious sacrifice and one that sends its children to fight in Iraq. He sees this film as a political protest. He is welcome to make such a political protest whenever he likes but to give such a distorted view of the Mayans to vent his rage is a poor strategy. If he wants to argue against the Iraq war, he should come right out and do it.
This is a period and place of history that has been neglected by films and a good film about the Pre-Columbian New World would be very good. However, in spite of its high production values and higher pretensions, APOCALYPTO is really just a gory matinee actionfest. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. An assistant professor of archeology discusses the inaccuracies of the film at http://www.archaeology.org/online/reviews/apocalypto.html. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As it is described on Amazon, in SHAKESPEARE WITHOUT TEARS by Margaret Webster (ISBN 0-486-41097-8) "...a prominent producer- director of Shakespeare's plays writes with wit and verve about the Elizabethan theater and subsequent modifications in theatrical practice, differences between actors and audiences in Shakespeare's day and ours." The book is fifty years old, and does not therefore address any of the recent (or even not-so- recent) innovative stagings of Shakespeare. Yet Webster's observations about the plays and how producers, directors, actors, and set designers approach them are still pertinent.
For example, Webster addresses the question of Shylock: how did Shakespeare intend him to be interpreted, and how do various ages (re-)interpret him? She notes (on page 120), "For instance, the 1st Quarto of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is subtitled with 'the extreame crueltie of Shylock the Jewe towards the sayd Merchant in cutting a just pound of his flesh, and the obtayning of Portia by the choyse of three chests.' The Jew was evidently represented as the villain of the piece and not as its tragic hero." She later (page 193) writes, "Sir Henry Irving played Shylock for all the pathos of the despised and downtrodden Jew, with the dragging, broken exit from the Trial scene which is so enormously effective. and so great a distortion of Shakespeare's intention."
Webster also feels that KING LEAR, while great on paper, is virtually unplayable. As she says (page 221): "The magic of the theater is a duality. It can evoke and sustain illusion or it can be as revealing as a microscope or an X-ray photograph, searching and merciless. The bedrock substance of an acted play is the basic stuff of its human characters. If you overload them with more than they can contain, if you overload the actors with more than flesh and blood can convey, then you overload, in turn, the capacity of an audience to absorb or ultimately to believe."
And there is even a science fiction reference. On page 290, Webster says, "There is a German play in which Goethe, reincarnating himself as a college student about to take an examination on Goethe, fails hopelessly to answer the questions put to him. Either he does not remember at all incidents, or his replies run directly counter to the textbooks of accepted criticism." This is, of course, the same plot as Isaac Asimov's "The Immortal Bard" from 1953, which post-dates the first edition of Webster's book (1942--mine is a revised edition from 1955, and I do not know if the reference to the play about Goethe was in the first edition). I do know that Asimov wrote a massive book about Shakespeare's plays, so he was probably familiar with the Webster book. The play, by the way, is actually a very short playlet titled "Goethe" by Egon Friedell and Alfred Polgar. (Since Friedell is also the author of THE RETURN OF THE TIME MACHINE, a sequel to the Wells novel, it would not surprise me to discover that Asimov was familiar with the play as well.)
Some of Webster's observations have a much wider application than just producing Shakespeare: "The difficulty is not that nobody remembers anything, but that everybody remembers, with wholehearted conviction, totally different and conflicting things." (page 120)
One of my favorite exercises is noting anachronisms in Shakespeare. So when Webster quotes from CYMBELINE ("Golden lads and girls all must, Like chimney-sweepers, come to dust."), I find myself thinking, "Did they have chimney sweepers in Cymbeline's time [1st century Britain]?" (I am not alone in this exercise, of course. Chapter 3 of Phyllis Rackin's STAGES OF HISTORY: SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH CHRONICLES has been recommended as specifically addressing anachronisms in the histories, such as a character named "Pistol" before the invention of pistols.)
[He also names a character Puck long before the invention of hockey. -mrl]
FRAGILE THINGS is a collection of thirty-one stories and poems by Neil Gaiman (ISBN 0-06-051522-8). Among them is a Hugo winner ("A Study in Emerald" and three Locus poll winners, along with one story never before published. Of course I recommend this. Even the physical book is well done--the cover is a translucent paper that goes well with the title "Fragile Things". (No, it is not really fragile, but it has a delicate look.) My one complaint is that the page headings are all "Fragile Things", rather than the individual story titles. This makes it hard to flip through the book to find a story. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: What are the three words guaranteed to humiliate men everywhere? 'Hold my purse.' -- Francois Morency
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