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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/04/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 44, Whole Number 1439
Table of Contents
Thanks to Rob Mitchell and Steve Goldsmith for keeping the MT VOID going out during our recent vacation. (We went to Washington and Oregon, and trips logs will be produced. In particular, I will have an article--actually, probably several--on the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, and on Powell's Books in Portland.) As a result of the trip, however, letters of comment and other correspondence are running a little late. [-ecl]
A Joke Revisited (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week's MT VOID had a joke that was a bit obscure and probably requires some explaining or perhaps should have been an entire editorial. There have been arguments that Global Warming is either not real or not actually the result of human activity. I was poking fun at those same arguments by applying them to a familiar sequence in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The piece was wholly fictional and intended whimsically.
For those wondering here is the joke:
Apparently there was trouble at the International Conference on Global Warming, but for once it was not about Global Warming itself. It seems for evening recreation they showed the film RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The film had to be interrupted when an argument broke out in the audience as to whether the temple that turns into a death trap did so because Indiana Jones stole the idol. There was a contingent who claimed that we did not see enough to know if the temple was really different before and after Indy took the idol. Perhaps it was a trick of the camera. And even if it was different, it is not clear that the activating of the death traps was actually caused in any way by Indy's action. There was a delay of at least two seconds before any apparent activation took place. There is, they say, obviously a politically correct contingent who would like to blame Indiana Jones's problems in the deathtraps of the temple on Jones himself, but there is no proof in the film that this is the case or that he needs to change his behavior. [-mrl]
Lies My Jedi Told Me (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have to admit to being in some respects somewhat slower than the general population. That is only in some respects. Most people in our society learn the cold, hard facts of life when they find out that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are really mythical and do not literally exist. Being Jewish I never had such illusions and so I never had to face being disabused of these illusions. You know Jewish kids don't get brought up on many myths. Certainly not myths that anyone becomes really attached to. Someone says Egypt's first born didn't die in a single night??? It makes it a better story--there's less guilt. Oil lamps don't miraculously become more fuel-efficient??? Have it your way--so they skimped on the oil.
No, disillusionment came late to me. I maintained my innocence a relatively long time. I got my introduction to the Cold Hard Facts of Life when I was thirty. That was when the film STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was released and I found out the first of what was to be the whole sordid story of Luke Skywalker's parentage. Even that story would not have bothered me. The Grand Disillusionment came when I realized that that I, along with Luke Skywalker, had been misled and--yes, I'll use the word--betrayed by Obi Wan Kenobi. After seeing THE EMPRIE STRIKES BACK I went into a period of inconsolable depression. If one cannot trust the Obi Wan Kenobis of this world (okay, of *that* world), just whom can you trust? And Obi Wan had been played by Alec Guinness, too. That was the worst part. Alec Guinness for Chrissakes. It would have been one thing if he had been played by Michael Ironside. Nobody trusts a Michael Ironside character. Or if you do, you deserve what you get. Arthur Kennedy would have been okay too. But if an Alec Guinness character can lie with a straight face, and he does have a *very* straight face, who is there left to believe in? What is there left to believe in? What is going to come next? Morgan Freeman pitching for the Psychic Network? I mean, come on.
What does Obi Wan actually tell Luke? He says, "A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force." Those are his words, not mine.
Now the obvious question is whether Obi Wan was telling the truth when he said that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke's father. The obvious answer on first thought is no. But on reflection it becomes "no, dammit." What does Obi Wan say in his own defense? I had to wait another three years to find out, but I got it. I was sitting there in the theater with my heart in my hand (and my candy in my other hand) waiting to find out the Truth. It wasn't worth the wait.
Luke: Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi-Wan: Your father . . . was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true . . . from a certain point of view.
Luke: A certain point of view?
Obi-Wan: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
Oh, so that makes it okay. What a load of duck tires. And Luke, who up to this point I respected, just stands there with an "oh, yeah, a certain point of view" look on his face.
A change of heart on Anakin/Vader's part means that his new self betrayed and murdered his own self from *a certain point of view*??? What point of view is that? It sure wasn't an overhead shot. It would take more than that. Who does he think he is? Tevye the Milkman disowning his daughter? He is saying "your father is dead to me and, by the way, he is dead to you too." What he is saying is that if his pupil chooses the wrong side of the Force he is a dead man. He is worse than being a dead man. And he is not just dead to Obi Wan, he is dead to his own son, whether his son would agree or not. His son does not even get a choice. I guess it is only fair that Lars tells Luke that Obi Wan is dead. Everybody on the whole dang planet seems to adopt a certain point of view and then lies through his teeth. Hey, you know I own the Brooklyn Bridge from a certain point of view. You want to buy it from me?
That is not all the claims that Obi Wan makes that are no longer operative after seeing Episode III. There is the issue of Anakin's legacy light saber. Obi Wan tells Luke that Anakin wanted Luke to have his light saber. It seems that Anakin does not want to give up his light saber till the very end of his fight with Obi Wan. Now it is possible that he had told Obi Wan before that he would leave his light saber to his son, but there is no evidence of this. It seems more likely that Obi Wan is just trying to manipulate Luke with the romance of being a Jedi.
The wise old Kenobi says that he has not gone by the name Obi Wan since before Luke was born. Actually we see him called Obi Wan by Padme just before she dies and after Luke is born. But perhaps he does not count Luke as being born until he can stand on his own. That would mean his claim is right from *a certain point of view*. I don't suppose that it has occurred to old Benny the Dip that nobody can have any sort of discussion if nobody is telling the truth and instead everybody is talking from a certain point of view.
Well, that was the message that a whole generation got from watching STAR WARS. They grew up and many went into politics. And everybody told the truth from a certain point of view. And that explains the mess we are in right now. [-mrl]
ROLLBACK by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2007, TOR, $24.95, 320pp, ISBN 0-765-31108-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I'm going to be lazy--I'm going to swipe a sentence from the first paragraph from my review of Robert J. Sawyer's previous novel, MINDSCAN:
I've said that the best science fiction is not about the gadgets or the technology, but about how the gadgets or technology affect the lives of the characters in the story.
It was true of MINDSCAN, and it's even *more* true of Sawyer's latest novel, ROLLBACK. So, let me ask you this: If you had your adult life to live over again, how would you approach it? How would you handle the fact that you are now younger than your children; that you're virtually unemployable because your skills are out of date (oh wait, that happens today); that you have more sexual energy and drive than you've had in 60 years, but the woman you're interested in is about 60 years (give or take) your junior; or that your wife is 87 but you're a man of 25?
Sarah Halifax had a brief moment of fame in her youth by being the first person to decode the meaning of a message received from aliens. Her ability to understand what the aliens were talking about allowed humanity to compose an intelligent reply--and now that Sarah is in her eighties, the aliens have replied to our reply. She may be the only one that can figure out how to read the encrypted reply, but she may not live long enough to do so.
This is important enough that a wealthy business man offers to pay for a rollback--a procedure that turns back the clock, that can make the recipient 25 again. Sarah agrees, but only if her husband is given the same offer. The business man reluctantly agrees, and both Sarah and Don Halifax receive the rollback treatment. It works astoundingly well on Don.
It fails on Sarah.
So, Don is essentially 25, and Sarah is 87. What follows is an engaging and interesting story of how they handle their lives in the face of the unfortunate circumstances that has left Sarah an old woman nearing death.
What's interesting to note, first off, is that this novel doesn't focus on the rollback itself--rather, it deals with characters who have to figure out how to deal with this stuff. And, even more interesting is the fact that the story, in my mind, is more "Don-centric", if you will. You might think that the story would center around Sarah and the transmissions. Those issues do play a large part of the story, but only as they contribute to the overall theme of morals, ethics, rejuvenation, and human emotion.
The novel is full of bits and pieces that we can all relate to. Chapter 6 centers around a wonderful discussion that Don and Sarah are having at an expensive restaurant, courtesy of our wealthy guy, about whether they should go through with the rollback. The final sentence really hits the mark. Chapter 17 deals with Don trying to find a job at his old employer, but they have no place for him. Chapter 25 has a fascinating conversation about the nature of God and computer simulations. Of course, interlaced throughout is Don's relationship with a woman who is significantly younger than he is. Let's also not forget the angle of having to care for elderly relatives.
Oh, there's *just* enough here for the geek in all of us. We've got robotics, we've got lots of discussion about the messages from the aliens--both content and meaning. We've got medicine, of course, in the sense that we get a little dabbling into the rollback process. So, there's something for everyone.
This is probably Sawyer's most character-driven story to date, and it doesn't take away from the free flow of thoughts and ideas that we've come to expect from a Sawyer novel. This is a terrific and worthy entry in the Sawyer catalog. I strongly recommend you get out to your local bookseller and buy this immediately--before it's too late. I enjoyed it immensely--I hope you will too.
Okay, after a little break catching up on some things around here, I'll be starting my annual reviews of Hugo-nominated works. The novel category looks full of interesting stuff, so I can't wait to get started. Until then... [-jak]
Indiana Jones, Gothic Horror, Science Fiction and Fanzine Collection at Texas A&M, and Jorge Luis Borges (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 04/27/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Your opening anecdote about trouble at the International Conference on Global Warming is both funny and sad. It's funny because of the incongruity of all these intelligent, scientific attendees having an argument over one incident in an Indiana Jones movie, and sad for the same reason. Haven't these people ever heard about this thing called "entertainment"? Sounds like they were taking things a bit too seriously and got carried away with their nit-picking. [-jp]
[Indiana Jones is a joke that failed. See the explanation above. -mrl]
Say, it sounds like I just described what happens sometimes at a Science Fiction convention. Heavens to Betsy, apparently we're not as unique as we've always thought we were. Oh, well. Welcome to the party, members of the ICGW. The con suite's on the 13th floor. I wonder what their name badge art looks like...
Very interesting article about the history of the Gothic Horror Movie genre. I had never really thought about this particular subject, but always assumed that horror movies had always been popular. Film-makers do follow trends and copy each other a lot, it is true. However, I did not know that THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was released by Hammer Films on May 3, 1957. I like that film a lot. In fact, I like a lot of the Hammer Film catalog; they produced some really good movies in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror milieu. Even before Hammer hit stride with Curse, their production was pretty good; I have always liked THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, and think that movie is one of their finer efforts.
[I have become somewhat notorious in fandom for my enthusiasm for their QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (a.k.a. FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH). I consider that my favorite film of all time and the best science fiction film I have ever seen. -mrl]
Yeah, this was a very informative and entertaining article. What is even more amazing is that Christopher Lee is still with us and acting. It will be a sad day when he's gone. Lee is one of the genre's most durable character actors; I never knew he was that tall, either. Thank you, Mark, for writing this.
On a related note, Hal Hall, the curator of the Science Fiction and Fanzine Collection at the Cushing Library of Special Collections at Texas A&M University, informed me that he's begun a blog for the SF Collection. The first entry was about FRANKENSTEIN, noting that the Cushing houses a copy of the 1835 edition, the first illustrated version of this novel. If you're interested in checking this out, here's the URL: http://blogs.tamu.edu/halhall. By the way, I think it's kinda neat that a science fiction and fantasy collection is housed in a building named Cushing. That is rather apropos, don't you agree?
[Perhaps horror would be more so, but yes, it is a pleasant coincidence. As popular as Peter Cushing was, I have always considered him still underrated. His films are a fondly remembered part of my past. -mrl]
I have not read any Jorge Luis Borges before, so Evelyn's contribution here didn't generate much of a response out of me. On the other hand, she did make me want to check into Borges, since I had no idea that he wrote what could be termed Alternate Histories. This bears some research. Thank you, Evelyn, for at least piquing my interest
And that, as they say in the film industry, is a wrap. Many thanks for the issue, and keep them coming. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE SPACE MACHINE by Christopher Priest (no ISBN) is a much more straightforward novel than just about any other Pries novel. This is probably because it is an homage of sorts to H. G. Wells, a combination "coquel" of sorts to both THE TIME MACHINE and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. It is written in a much more Victorian style, with Victorian sensibilities, and should appeal to fans of Wells even more than to fans of Priest.
EMPEROR by Stephen Baxter (ISBN-13 978-0-441-01466-8) is "Time's Tapestry Book One". It consists of several sections--we get about a hundred pages of someone's story, then the book skips forward a few generations and we get another story, perhaps of that person's descendent, perhaps of someone else connected to the main thread. The first time I saw this technique--and still my favorite--was James Michener's book, THE SOURCE. However, I will note that in spite of Baxter's book being subtitled "An Alternate History Epic" and having S. M. Stirling say, "Baxter produces something new and subtly different in the time travel genre," there is no alternate history or time travel in this volume. There is a hint at the end that someone from the book's future is sending back messages to the past trying to divert history from our own timeline, but so far they have not been successful. (A friend who has seen the next two novels and spoken to the series's editor has said that it does eventually become alternate history, but if that is what you are interested in, I would certainly wait for the entire series to finish.)
When traveling, bringing books has always been a problem. Let's face it, books are heavy, and bulky. A lot of my problem has gone away, though, since I now have a 512MB memory card in my palmtop. My "literature" directory is chock-a-block with reading material, including the complete works of Shakespeare, Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and the entire Bible (with Apocrypha). (The Bible is not as necessary, since most hotel rooms have a copy handy.)
[UPenn.edu's digital library http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/ is a very good source for on-line literature. They either have or keep track of, among other things, some science fiction and they get better year by year. Some of their science fiction is current, but there is a fair amount of the foundations of science fiction. For example, I notice they recently have included in their offerings five novels by E. E. Smith including SKYLARK OF SPACE and TRIPLANETARY. They have fairly good collections of Wells, Doyle, and Verne. But it does not hurt to look up later authors. There is a fair amount of Andre Norton. I frequently check their new listings at http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/new.html. -mrl]
But for those times when you want an actual book (such as when your plane is taking off or landing), small volumes are handy. On my recent trip to Seattle, I took four books from Shambhala Publications: Thomas Cleary's THE SPIRIT OF TAO, Thomas Merton's THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU, Ralph Waldo Emerson's NATURE, and Balthasar Gracian's THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM. These are all "Shambhala Pocket Classics", about 3" by 4.5" (75mm x 115mm) and less than 1" (20mm) thick.
Now obviously one problem is that one does not get a wide variation in subject matter from this publisher. (They do not publish much science fiction, for example. :-) ) In fact, even the Emerson and the Gracian are somewhat afield from their main focus, Eastern and New Age philosophies. There are some other general-interest titles: THE ART OF WAR by Sun Tzu, SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD by Captain Joshua Slocum, THE PORTABLE RUMI READER, and the ever-popular FLATLAND by Edwin A. Abbott. (Another problem is that none of this series is light escape reading.)
But the books really are pocket-sized, even more so than the Penguin 60s of a few years ago. And the subject matter is such that a couple of hundred pages, even in this small format, gives you much more to think about than a six-hundred-page mid-series alternate Civil War volume.
(The Penguin 60s, which sold for 60p in Britain and 95 cents in the United States, were 4" by 5.5", but had only 60 to 100 pages with wide margins. The Shambhala Pocket Classics have 200 to 250 pages with narrow margins, but cost $6.95 each. Penguin 60s was a gimmick; Shambhala Pocket Classics is a permanent line. Shambhala's paper is acid-free, and in general the production values are higher. I have no idea if Shambhala publishes any "non-Pocket-Classics".) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The fool wonders, the wise man asks. -- Benjamin Disraeli
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