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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/06/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 40, Whole Number 1435
Table of Contents
Correction to Hugo Nominees List:
From a press release:
"Nippon 2007 announces that it has made an error in tabulating nomination votes for one category of the 2007 Hugo Awards. As a result the film PAN'S LABYRINTH was mistakenly omitted from the final ballot and another film was mistakenly included. Nippon 2007 is distributing corrected ballots and has announced steps to try to ensure that the error has no effect on the awards."
The final list is now:
CHILDREN OF MEN (Universal Pictures)
PAN'S LABYRINTH (Picturehouse)
THE PRESTIGE (Warner Brothers/Touchstone Pictures)
A SCANNER DARKLY (Warner Independent Pictures)
V FOR VENDETTA (Warner Brothers)
The full slate can be found at http://www.nippon2007.us/hugo_nominees.php, which will also include links to the various nominees or samples of their work if and when they become available. [-ecl]
Rendezvous? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I notice there is a television documentary about the Huygens probe and its so-called "rendezvous" with Saturn's moon Titan. I think of a rendezvous as a meeting that is arranged and consented to by both parties. I don't think Titan or anybody was asked permission. I agree that the science should be done, but let's be frank about it. This is not a rendezvous. Isn't this more of a stalking? [-mrl]
Movies in the Palm of Your Hand (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
David Denby, film critic of the New Yorker writes about his experience of watching PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN on an iPod. He did not like the experience. As he said, "I tried to suppress memories of a camel train making its stately way across a seventy-foot-wide screen in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. On the iPod the camels would traverse my thumb. Where, I wondered, were movies going?" [http://tinyurl.com/yoojxw]
Everybody's movie experience is something different. For a long time many critics complained bitterly that special effects were taking over film. They said that the visual has become what is important and story values were being left behind. Curiously, as an apparent reversal of this trend, a new audience--mostly youth-- is getting into watching films on very portable two-inch screens. On such a small display device the visual has to be much less important.
In the days of silent film all of the information had to be carried by the visuals. Once sound came in, the vast majority of films started depending more on the soundtrack to do the story- telling. For most scenes in most films the visual tells you where the scene is taking place, and after that the majority of the story is conveyed by the dialog. I frequently go to sleep listening to a movie with my eyes closed, and mere memory of the visuals is usually enough for me to know what is going on.
Movies, of course, really are a visual experience and a story- telling experience. They are also several other kinds of experience. The full experience of films cannot be appreciated in any way besides seeing a film in a theater with a good sound system and a really big screen and a silent audience--though laughing is allowed in comedies--and the film starting at a specific time that waits for no man.
That means that a good film requires a lot of investment from the viewer. The same that a good book requires a lot of investment from the viewer. I would hazard a guess that even Denby sees a substantial number of films on a screen smaller than full-sized. These days I would guess that not a large proportion of film viewing is done in the classic manner of the person being in a movie theater. There are a lot of variations on that experience in large part simply for convenience. Every time someone watches a film on a DVD it is a trading of the classical film experience for something else, usually convenience and/or economy.
On an iPod the visual values are left far behind and it is the story values that must carry the film. The audience viewing that story may or may not be discriminating, but if there are highly detailed and visually realistic special effects, they will not be making very much of a contribution. It is quite possible, if iPods take over the cinema that this expensive special effects technology that has been developed will become less and less important. I am not sure that is going to happen, but why spend in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on visual effects for a film that will be watched on a screen the size of a soda cracker?
The question inevitably arises, if viewing a film on a tiny screen is really watching the movie and partaking of the movie experience? I think that David Denby would say not, though admittedly he only implies that. I would say it is definitely not the classical movie experience. But few films are seen that way any more. DVDs are a departure from that experience. Even HDTV is a departure. Coloration of films was controversial, and did not really bother me as much as ti did some, but it seems to be a fad that has gone away and that is probably all to the good. When I travel I frequently view films on a portable DVD player. That is certainly not the classic film experience and it is watching films on a very small screen. But it is an expedient.
I suppose the philosophy is becoming less like wine and more like Coke. With wine there is a proper way to open it, a proper way to pour it, and a proper way to drink it. There is only one rule in drinking Coke. It has to be paid for. Once the Coca-Cola Company has been paid for it, they do not care if you pour it over your head. With films the philosophy may be becoming that if you pay for the film you can watch it any way that suits you. You may not be getting the full benefit, you may be missing an opportunity, but that is your lookout. [-mrl]
MEET THE ROBINSONS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A foundling and aspiring young inventor travels by time machine several decades into the future and finds a world that has been transformed by a true genius inventor. Now he has to deal with the inventor's weird family. The pacing of this 3-D animation film is uneven, from slow and sad to madcap, but eventually all is explained and it turns out to be a decent time travel story. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
MEET THE ROBINSONS, an adaptation of A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON by William Joyce, is a frantic animated sci-fi comedy that is mostly aimed at a younger audience. Adults may have to sit through the first of it with some patience, but it does catch on. Science fiction fans will probably find the wait worthwhile. The situation set up in the first half turns into an engaging science fiction story with its share of intricately plotted ideas. It covers some of the same ideas as Peter Hyams's A SOUND OF THUNDER and handles them more intelligently. (Admittedly, Hyams did not set the bar very high.)
The story with something like eight credited writers has some uneven tone early in the film, but it all works out. It begins as the story of Lewis, a foundling in an orphanage who has problems being adopted in spite of (and because of) his propensity to invent strange gadgets. The story takes a sudden and madcap turn when a new friend of his, Wilbur Robinson, claims to be from the future and takes Lewis a half-century forward in time in a time machine "borrowed" from his father.
As Lewis sees it the future is a little crazy, but technology has made magical strides. For example, the family's robot has a long extendable gooseneck, but it does not work quite right, with the head and the body no longer seemimg quite on the same page. Much of the change has been brought about by the great engineer and inventor Cornelius Robinson, a Thomas Edison of the new age. But Cornelius is the patriarch of a crazy family. Wilbur seems to be about the only normal member. Some of Lewis's visit to the Robinson family is strange because so much has changed in the world in general, but a good deal of the weirdness comes from the Robinson family itself, who would have been weird in any age. Lurking ever near at hand is the villain of the piece, the sinister Man in a Bowler Hat who is not so much an evil man wearing a hat as an evil hat wearing a man.
Frequently animated films, and particularly Disney animation, will have several recognizable celebrities voice the characters. It is true with this film but less obvious here. Tom Selleck is the voice of Cornelius, unheard until the final reel. Angela Bassett and Adam West voice minor characters. But for the most part the voices are not the usual stars. Most voices are from young actors who have not yet made a lot of reputation. Art direction was provided by Robh Ruppel whose view of the present is a little downbeat and whose future shows the fantasy exuberance that looks like 1950s ideas of the future and feels like "Futurama" on steroids.
Two lines of the script have become instantly memorable. One was the deceptively simplistic "Keep moving forward," Cornelius Robinson's personal credo. I had assumed that this was taken from the book, but at the end we see that this is really from a quote by Walt Disney. Perhaps it came from both by coincidence. However, the line I will want to quote comes when minions of the villain find they are just getting themselves into trouble. They reflect, "I'm just not sure how well this plan was thought through." That is a good line and one with great immediate political significance. Danny Elfman provides the score that has some nice melodic turns early on, but clearly he was hired because nobody else does frenetic music for frenzied action quite so well. The animation is computerized 3-D animation and some theaters have actual 3-D.
The film has a fair range of emotion, some decent laughs, and a few engaging ideas. That is probably more than enough for a short animated film. I rate MEET THE ROBINSONS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The film has been playing in theaters with a classic Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy animated cartoon, "Boat Builders" (1938). It is never terrifically funny, but the old cartoons still have the power to entertain.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0396555/
TIME'S EYE by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (copyright 2005, Del Rey Books, $7.99, 364pp, ISBN 0-345-45247) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I'd been eyeing this book for quite a while (no pun intended) before I finally decided to pick it up at the Books-A-Million while I was working in downtown Chicago. I'm a fan of Clarke's earlier writings (but think his "recent" solo stuff has been atrocious--see my review of 3001), and you know that I've become a Stephen Baxter fan. Combine all that with the idea that this is somehow related to the original "Odyssey" books (yes, it's the famous orthoquel to the "Odyssey" series), and it was only a matter of time before I caved and bought the book.
Our story begins a very short time before what is called the Discontinuity. Various groups of characters are ripped out of their own time and space and dumped into the middle of Asia somewhere. We have a group consisting of a couple of cosmonauts and an American astronaut leaving the International Space Station and coming home via an old Soyuz space craft when all the radio signals cut out. We have a bunch of Brits from the time of Rudyard Kipling (more on that in a minute), another bunch of 21st century military folks in a helicopter shot down by a primitive weapon just after the Discontinuity occurs, and we have Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn and their respective armies. Oh, we also have some semi-upright apelike creatures, who are probably the most confused of the entire bunch.
The Soyuz craft comes down near Kahn and his outfit, but not before detecting a strong radio signal coming from Babylon; the Brits, and the soldiers nominally led by Bisesa, hook up with Alexander the Great. Both parties head for Babylon because they believe that the secret to what's going on is there.
And just what *is* going on? Well, pieces of time *and* space have been sliced up and put back together, so that the Earth, dubbed Mir, is a patchwork of land and sea. And the whole thing is being watched over by these, well, balls, which the characters have dubbed the Eyes. Yep, mysterious objects just like in the "Odyssey" series, just this time they're round, and oh by the way the value of pi for the strange spheres is 3, not 3 and 1/7. I still can't get my head around how that would work.
As you might expect, when the armies meet at Babylon there is this huge battle, and watching over it all is our buddy the Eye-- but not just any Eye. This is like, oh, the Mother of all Eyes.
I have several problems with this book. The first and foremost is that it is very obviously the first of a series. I already knew that, but this book confirms it in the sense that the story is not complete, so you feel a bit cheated. It's kind of like RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA--in my opinion not a very good book at all, but it won a Hugo, so what do I know?--nothing interesting happens. And, quite frankly, at this point I'm not very interested in finding out where it's going. There's no hook, no strong story, no driving force that makes me want to come back for more--but I probably will anyway.
There are a few nods to the original "Odyssey" books, including the line about the apelike creature Grasper: "Now she was master of the world, and she was not quite sure what to do next. But she would think of something."
This book was really thudded badly, in my opinion. I hope the next one is better.
As far as what comes next, you all know that the Hugo nominations are out. And, as usual, I will be reviewing as much of the material that I can before the voting deadline. But first I'll be reviewing Robert J. Sawyer's new book, ROLLBACK. Then it's on to the Hugo nominees. [-jak]
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a Faberge egg of a film. It is exquisitely beautiful, but the story is not one of Zhang Yimou's best. It is an overwrought melodrama set on a background of impressive beauty. The story is theatrical and not especially deep so as not to distract from the visual. An emperor and empress struggle for power against each other in a story of sex, drugs, and murder, all set during the chrysanthemum festival. This is a beautiful film, but the characters are weak and disappointing from Zhang. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Many filmgoers first took notice of Zhang Yimou with his film JU DOU. That was a complex story, perhaps at times a little hard to follow. What I remember most is that it featured scenes in a dye factory filmed in beautiful color. Zhang really woke up the film with bright coloration. Apparently he recognized the value of lush, luxuriant color in films. In almost every film he has made since that time he has used richer and richer colors. Perhaps he knows how to use color in film more effectively than any other director. His films have gained an international reputation for their visual splendor. That is the good news. The bad news is that his stories of late seem to be growing simpler and less interesting at the same time the color sense develops. His plotting has become more that of action films. Probably recognizing that a good deal of his proceeds come from viewers who will be experiencing his stories with the aid of subtitles, he is giving his audience less to read and less to distract their eyes from the beautiful images he is creating for them.
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER is the story of the Emperor Ping (played by Chow Yun Fat). He has married Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) a woman from another province in a marriage of state to extend his power. The marriage outwardly seems to have gone well. Empress Phoenix has given Ping two sons in addition to a previous son he had. But the external appearance is a lie, and now the two are engaged in a mortal struggle for power with the sons becoming pawns. That sort of story made for a very good film with THE LION IN WINTER but that film has more dialogue. Here Zhang seems reticent to use much dialogue to flesh out the story. The first half of the film creates the basic situation, with an economy of dialog and really a minimum of plot. Instead, we have a lot of scenes of people regally marching down majestic halls in beautiful costumes of fantastic color. The costumes are breathtaking. The characters themselves, however, are rather two-dimensional and the drama is a soap opera. The long- suffering empress knows she is slowly being poisoned, but does not resist beyond wearing pained expressions. The style is melodramatic and overwrought, somehow reminding me of a Roger Corman Poe film. With the exception of a few external scenes the film takes place almost entirely on the grounds of the palace, giving the film a set-bound and claustrophobic feel. The colors often push the images from simply ornate into the realm of the surreal. Equally impressive are scenes of huge armies shoehorned into courtyards for battles that would more likely be taking place on plains.
The pace does pick up in the second half with the introduction of what appear to be Chinese ninja assassins. I was not aware there were Chinese ninjas just as I was not aware that Tang Dynasty fashions for women included very low-cut necklines revealing large bouncing globular breasts bare almost to the nipple. Zhang works into the plot what seem like un-Chinese themes of sex and drugs to show the melodramatic decay from within. Of course there is martial arts with obvious wirework, further distancing us from reality. What is seen in CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER seems less honestly reflective of China's Feudal Period and more of Zhang's overwhelming desire to please an international audience.
Nearly every frame of this film really is gorgeous. Zhang is drunk with color. But perhaps this is a film better watched with the subtitles turned off. Zhang's theme is that what is beautiful on the outside may we weak and rotting on the inside, and the lesson may well apply to this film. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or /10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0473444/
CASINO ROYALE and Mathematics (comments by John Hertz):
In response to Mark's comments on mathematics in the 02/16/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes, "Math isn't something you *need*. It's something good. Also as things turn out it's anti-elitist, which is secondary at best. Note how people can walk into it with or without facility in the prevailing language, or knowing the right people, or anything. It happens to strengthen the mind, so maybe being anti-elitist is tertiary." [-jh]
Mark responds, "Is mathematics something you need? It depends on what you mean by 'need'. A lot of people in other parts of the world actually get by with no education at all, or little that is not a religious education. They continue to breathe and make children, but I don't think they are likely to be very good at understanding the world. I would say that the rigor that must be learned and is required to understand mathematics is important to understand the world. I would say appreciating literature is something good, The logic to do mathematics is something that goes beyond just being good to being something you really do need even if many survive without it." [-mrl]
In response to Mark's comments on the French language in the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, John writes, "Incidentally, the casino was called Royale-les-Eaux. (CASINO ROYALE (1953), chapter 1)." [-jh]
Mark responds, "[My French is really not up to this, but doesn't that mean the 'Royal Casino on the Water'? Royal still modifies Casino and should agree with it in gender. I think." [-mrl]
Word Recognition (letter of comment by Lorraine Kevra):
In response to nothing particular in the MT VOID, Lorraine Kevra writes, "I don't know if the percentages quoted are true or not (I haven't checked out any Urban Legends websites yet) or if there is any valiidty to it at all, but this might be an interesting point of discussion for MT VOID.
Do you have an acrobatic mind?
fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae na arocbitac mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs?
Olny 55 % plepoe can.
i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervti sy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it. ONLY FORWARD IF YOU CAN READ THIS.
It would seem there are steps in visual word recognition. You use the length of the word and the first and last letters first, the letters inside second, and the exact configuration of letters third. Different people have varying degrees of dependence on that third step.
I have often thought that people who pun a lot, myself included, have a different aural word recognition procedure. At some point when you hear a word spoken you parse the sounds and disambiguate the word from other words on the basis of rough sound, exact sound, and then the logical context in the sentence. Punsters disambiguate more slowly or are more clever in finding possible contexts for the word. Groucho Marx had a friend going to Uruguay and told him, "Well, you go Uruguay and I'll go mine." He heard the word Uruguay and it took his mind a moment to disambiguate Uruguay from "your way." He matched the sound to two different meanings, ruled out the one that was not meant, but remembered it and used it to make a joke. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our discussion group last month read THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker (ISBN-10 0-671-72779-6, ISBN-13 978-0-671-72779-6). Enough has been said about this by others, so I will just note that this time through I caught a reference I had not noticed before: one person is described as attending Wilberforce College. It was only with this year's celebration of the bicentennial of the passage of Wilberforce's British anti-slavery bill that I heard that Wilberforce was what is now called "a traditionally black college".
Our science fiction discussion group's selection, EDEN by Stanislaw Lem (ISBN-10 0-156-27806-5, ISBN-13 978-0-156-27806-5), was written in Poland almost fifty years ago, yet one finds the following:
"Then you think it's impossible for us to help!" said the Chemist with vehemence.The odd thing is that I think that Lem was not echoing a common sentiment at the time. Indeed, one might claim it is an early example of cultural relativism, but it perfectly encapsulates our current problem.
The Captain looked at him a long time before replying. "Help, my God. What do you mean by help? What's taking place here, what we're witnessing, is the product of a specific civilization, and we would have to destroy that civilization and create anew one--and how are we supposed to do that? These are beings with a physiology, psychology, and history different from ours. You can't transplant a model of our civilization here. And you would have to construct one, too, that would continue to function after our departure. . . . I suspected, for quite some time, that you had ideas similar to those of the Engineer. And that the Doctor agreed with me, which is why he kept discouraging us from making analogies to Earth. Am I right?"
"Yes," said the Doctor. "I was afraid that through an access [sic] of noble-mindedness you would all want to establish 'order' here, which in practice would mean a reign of terror." [page 219]
THERE ARE TWO ERRORS IN THE THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK by Robert M. Martin (ISBN-10 1-551-11493-3, ISBN-13 978-1-551-11493-4) is subtitled "A Sourcebook of Philosophical Puzzles, Paradoxes and Problems". Much will be familiar to readers of this sort of book, but Martin also includes a lot of paradoxes that I do not recall having seen before.
For example, here's one for physicists (page 132): Consider the
following two statements:
1) Shadows do not pass through opaque objects.
2) If light doesn't fall on something, then it doesn't cast a shadow.
Most people would agree with these. Okay, then, consider the following scenario: I am standing with a light behind me and a wall in front of me. I cast a shadow on the wall. Now I hold a coffee mug in front of me. Consider the shadow cast on the wall that is directly in line with the light and the mug. Is it cast by me, or by the mug? The former violates premise #2, the latter premise #1.
[The reader may be surprised to find out I have a comment on this paradox. (But I doubt it.) In fact I will talk about it next week as my weekly editorial. See you then. -mrl]
Martin also seems to have an interesting response to those who claim that morality comes from religion (i.e., God) (page 175). Consider, he says, that you receive a message purporting to be from God. Let's say that you go outside and your hydrangea is burning, but not consumed. Out of it comes a voice saying, "You've got it all wrong. I want you to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and throw beer cans on your professor's lawn." Obviously if you did not originally believe in God, you would not believe the voice, but even if you did, the probability is high that you would not believe that the voice was God telling you what to do. Why not? Because you have some notion independent of God about what is good and what is not.
[This does not negate the idea that morality comes from religion. It only says that faith in a religion is stronger than the convincing power of an apparent vision of God. -mrl]
Some of Martin's paradoxes are just variations on better-known points. For example, he asks whether there can be a true statement which is impossible for you to believe. Yes--consider the statement "X is dead," where X is your name. It will be true one day, but when it is, it will be impossible for you to believe it. [page 80] This is just the contra-positive of Descartes's "Cogito, ergo sum."
This is just a small sample of what Martin covers in this book. Each chapter is independent of the others, so you do not have to read this straight through, and taking a break to think about each chapter is probably a good idea. (The reviews on amazon.com indicate that this is a great book for teenagers as well as adults.)
I have written before about how many Agatha Christie mysteries revolve around the mis-identification of a corpse (eight out of the nineteen novels I looked at). It is also true that Christie has a lot of live characters who are masquerading as someone else: siblings, offspring, spouses, .... Sometimes someone else will be in on the masquerade (similar to Doyle's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES deception), but often everyone else is taken in.
It seems clear from this that Christie had issues with identity, and I recently noticed another manifestation of this in THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS (American title MURDER WITH MIRRORS) (ISBN-10 0-396-08867-8, ISBN-13 978-0-396-08867-7). In this novel, Jane Marple is called in to try to protect her old school friend, Carrie Louise Serracold. But everyone calls this friend by a different name. To Jane, she is Carrie Louise. To her companion Jolly, she is Cara. To her granddaughter, she is Grandam. To her stepson Stephen, she is Madonna. To her husband, she is Caroline. And to her husband's secretary Edgar, she is Mrs. Serracold. Here everyone knows that all these names refer to one character, but in other novels, one often discovers that a nickname conceals a true identity. What this says about Christie I leave to the psychologists, but it does seem as though she re- uses the issue of identity more than just as a trick; one has to start believing that Christie herself had some personal issues with it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Without fools the rest of us could not succeed. -- Mark Twain
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