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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/13/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 41, Whole Number 1436
Table of Contents
Links to Hugo-Nominated Works:
Last week I said that http://www.nippon2007.us/hugo_nominees.php would have links to the Hugo-nominated works as they became available. So far, however, not many have been added. However, links to almost all the short fiction, and one of the novels, can be found at http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/004923.html.
One of the missing stories is Neil Gaiman's "How to Talk to Girls at Parties". However, this is available in MP3 audio form (either as a single download, or in 4 parts), at . http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/shortstories/partiesstory. [-ecl]
Not So Cool (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that an undersea seafood restaurant has opened in Maldives. You actually eat in a transparent cylinder under the water. The story as quoted in Snopes asks, "How cool is that?" http://www.snopes.com/photos/architecture/undersea.asp
To me it is not so cool. First, when I eat I don't want fish like sharks swimming round me knowing that if they can get through that glass they can get at what is on that plate. I don't know if you know this, but scientists tell us sharks are very fond of seafood. Many fish eat seafood almost exclusively. And of course if a shark could get through the glass, the shark might want to try a little of me also. I don't want to be part of a surf and turf dinner. Even if there is nothing that powerful swimming around me do I really want to eat in front of a fish? I mean, it is like when I eat at a steak I don't want to see a live cow right there and I certainly don't want one looking at me. Besides, did anybody notice the name Maldives? Doesn't that come from "mal" meaning "bad" and "dives" meaning "time spent under water"? [-mrl]
The Return of Shadows (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In last week's MT VOID Evelyn mentioned the shadow paradox. To quote it:
"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."
Before she published this she brought the paradox to me. I am proud to say that she could not get it all out. When she gave me the first premise, even without knowing what was coming, I immediately told her the premise was false. (I suppose this has come from sitting in dull business meetings and thinking about the physics of Peter Pan.)
The first premise is "Shadows do not pass through opaque objects." With a fraction of a second reflection I responded that they do indeed pass through opaque objects. I would claim a shadow being cast in this room goes right through the wall into the next room and beyond that. So the question is why don't we notice it there? It is because there is nothing to notice. A shadow is not a thing but a lack of a thing.
A shadow is a three-dimensional region in space. When we talk about a lunar eclipse the earth passes into the moon's shadow. Clearly that wording implies that a shadow is a three-dimensional region not just a flat silhouette on a wall. The light from a point light source comes out as photons in a straight line (or what passes for a straight line in curved space) and if unobstructed goes to infinity. If the light is obstructed by an object the photons no longer fill that space and where the photons would have gone but do not go is the shadow. And it is a space going to infinity. It is a lack of photons rather than a positive something. It goes to infinity. In other words the photons do not reconstitute themselves somewhere further down the line. The lack of photons go right through solid objects. So if an object is casting a shadow in one room why do I not see a shadow in the next room? I do see it actually, but I also see the shadow of the wall between the rooms which is also obstructing photons. And that shadow may be obscured by seeing light coming into the second room. I may see the shadows of objects in the second room if is there is a different light source casting light on those shadows.
Somewhat confusing matters is that there is no such thing a single shadow. When I see a shadow I am seeing a very large or infinite number of shadows. That is because there is no such thing as a single-point light source. Light sources have area. And within that area there are either an infinite or very large number of point sources. I am being careful in my wording here, because there may be some granularity to the universe due to the width of photons when they are particles. But my light bulb constitutes are large number of point light sources. Put an object in front of the light bulb and each point light source generates its own shadow. The greater the diameter of the light source the less defined will be the edges of the shadow since they will be coming varying areas of the surface of the light source.
This brings to mind a problem of my own. Take a perfect sphere the size of a grapefruit into space. Expose it to light from the star Sirius. Will the light illuminate less than half the surface of the sphere, more than half, or precisely one half? Ignore any light source but Sirius.
On first analysis it would look like that the star Sirius is pretty close to being a point light source. The light hitting the sphere would be a cone whose vertex is the point light source Sirius. It might be easier to think of the sphere as having an axis through the center of the sphere and through Sirius. The equator would be a great circle whose plane is perpendicular to the axis. It would intersect the sphere at a circle of tangency very close to equator of the sphere, but on the Sirius side of the equator. (Are you following this?)
But that is not really what would happen. As much as Sirius looks like a point source of light, it is a ball with a much greater diameter than our sphere has. A cone tangent to both Sirius and the sphere would be getting narrower at the sphere end. The sphere would lie between the vertex of the cone and Sirius. So Sirius would illuminate more than half of the sphere even if the sphere appears to be being lit by a point light source. [-mrl]
GRINDHOUSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino set out to recreate the 1970s experience of seeing a bad double feature in fourth run theater. They respectively make sub-films PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF. PLANET TERROR is a fairly accurate pastiche of an out-of-control grindhouse film. DEATH PROOF is a frequently dull film with homages to road-rage flicks and non- 1970s films. It is more a Tarantino film than a grindhouse one. The wraparounds are better than the two features themselves. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
I suspect Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino share a sad lament. They were not around to make the sort of half-bad exploitation films they enjoyed when they were growing up. There are very few drive-ins or grindhouse theaters any more and very few small films made for the big screen. Major films have eaten up the industry. Most films we see released to theaters today are something of an event. A new "X-Men" film is an event. New minor films that are not events show up on cable and DVD, but it is not the same thing. Most people probably cannot even remember the last time they saw a film that cost under a million dollars to make on a screen wider than the people are tall. (The exceptions might be THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and Rodriguez's own EL MARIACHI, coming in at about $35,000 and a quarter of a million respectively. Each was released to make them film events.) Rodriguez and Tarantino apparently miss the 1970s, the golden age of grinding out schlock films with lurid scripts for drive-ins and run-down movie houses. Each has made his own idea of such a film and the two have been put in a frame of actual and imitation 1970s material and are being released in a single film. The films are presented in pre-washed, pre-aged, faded form like blue jeans. Each of the sub-films is about 85 minutes, though once we get into the films they seem a lot longer. Pasted together the two films are supposed to be more of a release event, a film greater than the sum of its intentionally minor parts.
Rodriguez understood the project the better of the two directors and made the more appropriate of the two films. His PLANET TERROR is no gem of coherence, and it is made even less so by a supposed missing reel. (This is, by the way, a puzzling touch. I have never seen a film shown that had a title inset claiming there was a missing reel.) The story deals with a Texas town where a military base has been careless with some sort of virus from space that eats people alive and then turns them into flesh- eating zombies. There is a plot line of a stripper (sorry, a "go-go dancer" who pole dances) and her mysterious ex-boyfriend who is much more than he seems at first. Also running around a rogue anesthesiologist with deadly hypodermics. A lot of violence and gore of over-the-top disgust value slops into your face. The film is more of a gross-out film than the originals it imitates. But this film has the 1970s exploitation film feel. It looks like a very bad print with faded colors and scratches all over the screen. It is not a great film, but it is very much the bad film that was intended.
Quentin Tarantino appears to have gotten into making his film and Then forgot what he was supposed to be doing. He gives us a film more Tarantino than grindhouse. After some faded film and scratches at the beginning of his film, he forgets about them later in the film. Nor does his film have the grindhouse feel. Tarantino's films are known for their dialogue. This film has dialogue in spades. His characters endlessly talk just like they would not have done in 1970s action films. He gives us ten- minute stretches of nothing but marking time with irrelevant dialogue. What was original in PULP FICTION (and more interesting there) does not belong here. No grindhouse film would have an unbroken ten-minute scene of dialogue, much less two or three of these sequences. The story deals with a group of girls in Lebanon, Tennessee, who are preyed upon by serial killer. The film turns into an extended road rage chase and smash between two supercharged cars. Kurt Russell plays the killer with a reinforced car. Most of the time DEATH PROOF just spins its wheels and only rarely catches. Tarantino breaks his contract with Rodriguez and with the viewer.
Ironically, what is good about this double feature is not the two films themselves, but the frame they come packed in. There are four trailers for non-existent grindhouse films and faded-to-the- point-of-nausea food ads. This is a film that is strong on nostalgia value for those who remember the 1960s and 1970s exploitation films. I suspect that many of the film critics like the film because they grew up on such exploitation films, but one spends a lot of time waiting for the next gag.
Nostalgia is the main value of the film and it is not even as successful at that as it might be. But at the man says in THE UNTOUCHABLES, "It's not supposed to be good. It's supposed to be *bought*." I cannot say I was glad I bought it. I rate GRINDHOUSE a disappointed 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0462322/
Access/Excess (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Stanislaw Lem's EDEN in the 04/06/07 issue of the MT VOID, Charlie Harris writes:
[Evelyn quoted Lem as saying] "'Yes,' said the Doctor. 'I was afraid that through an access [sic] of noble-mindedness you would all want to establish "order" here...'"
Does the "[sic]" mean it should have said "excess"? No, Lem (and/or the translator) was just tossing in another bit of irony:
American Heritage Dictionary ac·cess (ak'ses) n. ... 5. An outburst or onset: "an access of rage."
Hugo Nominations, Movies on iPods, and Casino Royale (letter of comment by Chris Garcia):
In response to various items in the 04/06/07 issue of the MT VOID, Chris Garcia writes:
You know, reading about the correction for the Best Dramatic Presentation made me worry that my nominations were about to be recounted! Luckily, I seem to have managed to make it through and am still on the ballot . . . I hope. [-cg]
[Supposedly they recounted all the ballots in each category and that was the only mistake. So you are a bona fide Hugo nominee. And congratulations. -mrl]
I don't like watching movies on anything smaller than my computer monitor. I'll watch certain movies on my portable DVD player (mostly TV shows on DVD and some of the recent Will Ferrel-type comedies) but I really want a more immersive experience. If you can't get your eyes lost in a film, what's the point? [-cg]
[Now I am just the opposite. I will watch films on my portable DVD player, but after seeing on a plane some of TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY I would not watch a Will Ferrel on anything smaller than another celestial body, preferably the planet Neptune. As for the experience, it depends on how visual the film is. There is not very much to see in MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. On the other hand WHAT DREAMS MAY COME or CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER might be better with the sound/subtitles off. -mrl]
I will say that TV news is best on a phone, but other than that, I'll stick to a theatre or a TV.
On the matter of Casino Royale and mathematics, why did Bond go in on that hand? As a regular poker player (and guy who took second in an Omaha tourney just last week), there's no way I would go in on those cards. Bond was either bluffing and got lucky or is a moron. [-cg]
[I actually answered that question before CASINO ROYALE was released. I will refer you to one of my editorials from last May: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4824/VOID0526.htm#bond Thanks for the comment. And congratulations again. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A JEW AMONG EVANGELICALS by Mark I. Pinsky (ISBN-10 0-664-23012-1, ISBN-13 978-0*664*23012-1) is more about evangelicals and their various sub-groups than about being a Jew among them. It's worth reading, but the title is a bit misleading.
FUGUE FOR A DARKENING ISLAND by Christopher Priest (ISBN-10 0-330-25544-4, ISBN-13 978-0-330-25544-8) is written in a very temporally disjointed way. There are four different threads, and Priest jumps among them without much warning. One is when the narrator, Alan Whitman, first meets his wife. One is when Britain starts to fall apart. One is when Whitman and his family have fled their suburban home. One is when Alan has joined up with a band of rebels/scavengers/whatever. Two things to remember are that Whitman is not necessarily the most reliable narrator, and that things that are not explained at first will eventually be made clear. In particular, the explanation of the social breakdown does not even begin until well into the novel, and a more complete explanation does not occur until the midpoint.
One may argue that the novel seems misogynist or racist, except that all these views are expressed by the narrator, who *is* misogynist and racist, (And, yes, the title has a double meaning.) What it does do is carry on the tradition of British science fiction in portraying people coping with social disintegration. John Christopher's DEATH OF GRASS, Brian Aldiss's GREYBEARD, John Wyndham's DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, Terry Nation's SURVIVORS--all of these are classics in the theme. FUGUE FOR A DARKENING ISLAND is too "literary" in its fractured time sense to become a classic in the same sense as those others, but it is nonetheless a noteworthy entry in the sub-genre.
The movie made from THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck (ISBN-10 0-14-004239-3, ISBN-13 978-0-14-004239-9) is a classic. But reading the book made me realize that the movie-making process had still sucked all the color and almost all the heart out of it. Steinbeck spends a lot of the book giving you intense word pictures of the land, the take-over by the banks, a day at a used car lot, a day at a roadside cafe, and so on. All of these were dropped for the movie. (For example, the Joads have a car, but the whole process of getting it, and what the used car salesman was thinking, is gone.) The entire sub-plot of the joining of the Joads with the Wilsons is gone. And what is left is much shorter--shorter discussions of how the migrants are treated by the sheriffs, by the local merchants, by the growers, by each other. And of course the ending was completely changed as well. I know that a lot of this is part of the process of transferring a novel to the screen, but it would be a pity for people to skip reading a great book because after all, they had seen the movie. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere. -- Groucho Marx
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