MT VOID 05/11/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 45, Whole Number 1440

MT VOID 05/11/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 45, Whole Number 1440

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/11/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 45, Whole Number 1440

Table of Contents

      El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Sounds Familiar (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I see an article in the New York Times, "Feeling Warmth, Subtropical Plants Move North" (

Why am I picturing triffids? [-mrl]

Unexpected Interconnectivity (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A few weeks ago (in the 04/20/07 issue of the MT VOID) I talked in my editorial about Colony Collapse Disorder. This is the situation where honeybee hives are being found to have been deserted. At that point one of the prime suspects was cell phone radiation which in certain frequency ranges has been shown to disorient honeybees. I have been discussing this offline with Kenneth Howard. He sent me a reference to an article that suggests that a parasitic fungus may be the cause. See A more complete report is at

Also, as the article suggests, the parasitic Varroa mite has been suspected to be the cause of the strange phenomenon. Well, optimistically, cell phone radiation is not a prime suspect anymore. It probably cannot be ruled out totally until they get a better understanding of what is the cause. And maybe they will find a cause and maybe they will not.

But as I said (or tried to say) in the editorial the honeybee die-off--scary as the concept is--is not primarily what is frightening. What is frightening is that a popular technological advance could conceivably have had a serious impact in what certainly seems an unrelated area. It is the appearance of an apparent lack of relation that has me concerned. Nobody would have thought to associate cell phones and honeybees. When cell phone technology was introduced nobody asked what it was going to do to the homing abilities of honeybees. Cell phones came in, were really convenient for some people, and caught on tremendously with the general public before anybody thought about what affect they might have on anything like insect populations. The two fields are just too far apart for anyone to draw an association.

So what other side effects are completely unexpected from the next popular technological step? What if over the long term exposure to ethanol gasoline makes plankton die off? What if iPods somehow kill fungus gnats and dust mites proliferate in a way that totally destroys the ecology? (But for the iPod part, that is the premise of Charles Pellegrino's very effective novel DUST.) That sort of scenario seems far-fetched, but there are enough such possibilities to overpower the low probability of each one. And there are more such possibilities with time. Would we ever draw the proper connection before it was too late? In THE CHILDREN OF MEN, the concept that suddenly something would change in the environment mysteriously to make all women infertile is frighteningly real, and much more so because of the honeybee mystery. Even if the cause is something natural like fungus it could very well be some human action that has triggered it. And we might never know what it was we did.

Freak interactions with radioactivity were a staple of the 1950s science fiction film. Those interactions were mostly fantasy and rather silly ones at that. But change at that point was relatively slow. In the film THEM! Dr. Medford says, "When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door to a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict." I think we can be pretty sure that it will not be giant ants, as it was in THEM! But Medford's concern is a very real one, and there are a lot of scenarios that seem almost as weird that are actually quite possible.

As a people we tend to be slow at drawing even very obvious connections, such as we pollute waters and our seafood is contaminated. And once some of us draw the connection, the people doing the polluting will use any shred of scientific doubt to fight having to give up their profit. Consider how long the tobacco industry combatted the scientific conclusions that smoking was dangerous. Not everyone will agree with me, but I think the same thing is happening with global warming. But those are logical and plausible-seeming connections. What if the interaction is one that on first glance seems very unlikely, even preposterous, but is true nonetheless? It takes a good deal more effort to convince someone of an unlikely-seeming connection, particularly if he has an agenda that makes it profitable for him to be skeptical. Would people have been willing to give up cell phones because someone in some other country was saying it was the cause for honeybee disappearances? Or would we just blithely go on causing famines?

You cannot stop technology from accelerating. Some serious interconnections will almost certainly elude developers accidentally if not intentionally. You cannot check all possible interactions and make sure to interpret each one correctly. I am by no means a technophobe, but as the rate of technology accelerates I wonder if we are approaching a world whose very fate will be determined by really unexpected side effects of new technology. [-mrl]

THE NAMESAKE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Mira Nair covers about thirty years in the life of one Indian family. This is a film about the pull of one's native culture and the urge of the next generation to be free of it. This is a realistic story without a pre-packaged point. The film is intelligent and moving. Perhaps the telling is just a little rushed. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

I saw Mira Nair's MONSOON WEDDING on the morning of September 12, 2001. Nair told a somber audience at the Toronto International Film Festival that what was needed right then was a "life- affirming" film. Well, it was life-affirming, and it was a decent film, but it was a bit too fluffy for that audience that particular day with the MONSOON WEDDING's many somewhat simple plots woven together in Robert Altman fashion. Since then she has adapted Thackeray's VANITY FAIR to the screen in a pretty but a frothy and unsatisfying effort. THE NAMESAKE stands well above those previous two in a credible story of the conflict between family cohesion against the pull of two very different cultures. One generation loves one India, the next wants to be American and find its own identity. Jhumpa Lahiri's novel won the Pulitzer Prize and Nair's film is a rich one whose messages cross cultural lines.

In the 1970s Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) are brought together by their parents in an arranged marriage in Bengal. Ashoke is an engineer living in New York City. Ashima marries him and goes to live in a foreign city where she finds she will be a lonely stranger, always feeling a bit of an outsider. In time she has a child, Gogol (played as a child by Soham Chatterjee and as an adult by Kal Penn of HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE). Gogol is named for his father's favorite author, but he soon finds the non-Indian name sets him apart from his friends. It is neither Indian nor American. Ashima never loses her love of India, but her children feel out of place in Bengal . Gogol wants desperately to assimilate into American society. He goes to Yale later has a WASP-y patrician girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett). He tries to leave behind this name of Gogol but it becomes a symbol to him of his loyalty to his parents. Through it all Ashima and Ashoke, at first not well matched, find over a span of perhaps three decades that their love deepens. Ashoke outwardly seems to be accepted and successful, but we get a hint he still may see himself as grabbing for little pieces of status to look more successful to others like Akakii does in Nicolai Gogol's story "The Overcoat."

The screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala has a lot of territory to cover. Connecting scenes that most screenwriters would have included are left out leaving the viewer to deduce what has happened. This makes the narrative a little jumpy but allows for more scope to the film without making it overly long--a little over two hours. The screenplay has a broad range of emotions from amiable to strongly dramatic.

Some of the scenes set in New York City were actually filmed in Calcutta to save on the budget. Nair's love of India shows in the bright, colorful photography of Bengal compared to the more dismal color choices in 1970s New York. Yet the film does not leave us with the pat theme that Indians should maintain their culture. Instead it is a savvy examination into the relationships with people who come from the same family but not from the same culture. It is a story of love and of tension. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:


Lies My Jedi Told Me (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel):

In his article on Jedi lies in the 05/04/07 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote, "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." [-mrl]

In response to this, Dan Kimmel writes:

Funny, and good writing. Unfortunately Mark has gone for the joke instead of the facts.

Alec Guinness roles in which he can't be trusted: OLIVER TWIST (as Fagin), THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (robs the bank where he's employed), THE CAPTAIN'S PARADISE (married to two women), THE LADYKILLERS (criminal gang leader), THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (collaborates with Japanese captors), THE HORSE'S MOUTH (self- absorbed artist), OUR MAN IN HAVANA (serves as secret agent), Dr. Zhivago (Communist apparatchik), HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS (as Hitler!), TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE (as British intelligence officer).

By comparison, Obi-wan Kenobi is a saint! [-dk]

Mark responds:

Yes, Guinness played many scoundrels in his early career. But later he usually took roles of greater integrity. For his later career you point to his role in DR. ZHIVAGO in which he is a man of integrity in an unpleasant system. The only time Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago lets down his integrity is when compassion gets in the way of his duty. Smiley also has integrity. Hitler, no, I admit.

While disagreeing with your examples, I guess I would not trust his characters from THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Still, the lying to Luke seems particularly bad. [-mrl]

Lies My Jedi Told Me (letter of comment by Gerald S. Williams):

In response to Mark's comments on Jedis in the 05/04/07 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Williams writes, "[Mark says,] '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.' Surely just an oversight. Let George Lucas know and he'll fix it in the next revision. :-)" [-gsw]

Abbott and Costello (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel):

I have a bone to pick with Mark over his otherwise excellent (as usual) tribute essay to Hammer horror.

I don't argue that BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is the peak of that series. When I teach SF and horror films, that's the one I use, rather than the first film. However, while ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN does represent the close of Universal horror, and much of the later A & C MEET... films are lackluster, Mark implies that ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is also hackwork. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a hilarious (and rare) example of the successful comedy/horror hybrid. Bela Lugosi appears as Count Dracula for the last time (he'd don the cape again, but never officially). Lon Chaney, Jr., is the Wolfman. Chaney also doubled for the Monster in one scene when Glenn Strange sprained his ankle.

More importantly, the film carefully parses the horror and comedy. The creatures don't do one-liners and pratfalls. They stay in context. The comedy is left to Abbott and Costello, who also stay in context. Unlike their other films, they use very little of their old burlesque routines here--only the moving candle bit (beautifully adapted to Dracula's coffin) and a brief version of a bit where Abbott provokes someone to hit Costello and the "witness" keeps missing it. It even stays within the horror context at the end with the "cameo" by Vincent Price as the Invisible Man. The movie was a huge success and revitalized Abbott and Costello's career, put them back on top of the box office top ten after they had fallen off after the war. They would never enjoy such success again, and the monster series at Universal did die off, but that was for reasons quite apart from the success of the film.

I make it a point to defend this film and note that director John Landis is a huge fan as well (even writing the introduction to the published version of the screenplay). Mark didn't specifically criticize the film, but in the context of his essay one could certainly infer a lack of respect for it. If such is not the case, I welcome his extending and revising his remarks. :-) [-dk]

Mark replies:

I will say that ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is by far my favorite Abbott and Costello film. I do not laugh at it but their brand of humor generally does not work for me (the "Who's on First" routine excepted). Really, none of their films have a breed of humor that I find actually funny, but a sense of humor is a very subjective thing and I accept their brand of humor works for you. Readers can decide for themselves if it works for them. Many of the gags can be found at . If I am going to watch an Abbott and Costello film ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is probably the most enjoyable of a not really very good bunch. But . . .

I grew up loving horror and horror films, just as I like science fiction. Frankly, it is unpleasant to see these icons being used essentially as straight men for Lou Costello's exaggerated humor. It is a feeling much like I got watching an alcoholic Richard Burton taking roles like he did in the film CANDY. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN has the feel of Universal squeezing the last they could out of the classic monsters.

I think I can understand why you like the movie, but (and you can correct me if I am wrong) I think it is more for the comic aspects than for any feeling that you are seeing a great entry in the Universal horror film series. As a horror film it is a real step down even from the directly previous THE HOUSE OF DRACULA. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I mentioned THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM by Balthasar Gracian (adapted from the translation by Joseph Jacobs, ISBN-10 0-87773-921-8, ISBN-13 978-0-877-73921-0) in the 02/16/07 issue of the MT VOID, and again last week. (The Spanish version I found online calls him Lorenzo Gracian, his brother's name, which he used as a pseudonym.) This book was written in 1637, and consists of three hundred aphorisms and elaborations on them. For example, number 22 is "Knowledge has a purpose" and then goes on to say, "Wise people arm themselves with tasteful and elegant erudition--a practical and expert knowledge of what is going on, not common gossip. They possess a copious store of wise and witty sayings, and of noble deeds, and how to employ them at the right moment. Often, more is taught be a jest than by the most serious teaching. Knowledge gained in conversation can be of more help than the seven arts, however liberal."

[All the maxims are available on-line at -mrl]

One sentence I found particularly apropos to today's publishing industry was, "Estiman algunos los libros por la corpulencia, como si se escriviessen para exercitar antes los brazos que los ingenios." ("Some judge books by their corpulence, as if they were written in order to exercise the arms rather than the brain." [my translation])

This book is of the same genre as Mushashi Miyamoto's THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, La Rochefoucauld's MAXIMS, or even Niccolo Machiavelli's THE PRINCE. At one point a few years ago, a business firm (AIG) used Gracian's aphorisms as part of an advertisement, including a selection of one hundred (without explications) as a bound-in pamphlet in the "New Yorker". They called it "Life 101", but it seemed as much a business manual as a general guide for living.

I attempted to practice my Spanish by reading this is parallel, each aphorism first in Spanish, then in English. I ran into more difficulties than I had in reading Jorge Luis Borges's Spanish though, for several reasons. First, there seem to be two versions of the letter "z" where the current alphabet has only one. (It appears that these are really two distinct letters, rather than parallel to how some instances of the letter 's' in 18th century English documents look like 'f', but I could be wrong.) Second, Gracian uses far more word play (alliteration, assonance, etc.) than Borges.

But a third problem was that the Spanish version I had (from the Web) retained Gracian's 17th century spelling. Gracian wrote *before* Shakespeare and anyone who has seen the original spelling of Shakespeare's texts will understand that spelling changes over time. For example, "there is/there are" in modern Spanish is "hay"; in Gracian, it is "ai".

As an example from Shakespeare, I read some of the "doubtful" Shakespeare plays in a book called THE SHAKESPEARE APOCRYPHA. These were taken directly from the various quartos, etc., and had not had the spelling regularized. So here is a sample speech from "Edward III":

Shee was, my Lord; and onlely Issabel
Was all the daughters that this Phillip had,
Whome afterward your father tooke to wife;
And from the fragrant garden of her wombe
Your gratious selfe, the flower of Europes hope,
Deriued is inheritor to Fraunce.
But note the rancor of rebellious mindes:
When thus the lynage of (le) Bew was out,
The French obscurd your mothers Priuledge,
And, though she were the next of blood, proclaymed
Iohn, of the house of Valoys, now their king:
The reason was, they say, the Realme of Fraunce,
Repleat with Princes of great parentage,
Ought not admit a gouwenor to rule,
Except he be discnded of the male;
And thats the speciall ground of their contempt,
Whereiwth they stufy to exclude your grace;
But they shall finde that forged ground of theirs
To be but dusty heaps of brittile sande.
Perhaps it will be thought a heynous thing,
That I, a French man, shoudl discouer this;
But heauen I call to recorde of my vowes:
It is not hate nor any priuat wronge,
But loue vnto my country and the right,
Prouokes my tongue, thus lauish in report.

Every edition of Shakespeare that I have seen for general use standardizes the spelling so that the last four lines, for example, would read:

But heaven I call to record of my vows:
It is not hate nor any private wrong,
But love unto my country and the right,
Provokes my tongue, thus lavish in report.

Similarly, Gracian's spelling (at least from the site I found) is enough similar to make you think you can read it, but enough different from modern Spanish to cause problems.

Well, our library had its annual book sale last week, finishing (for us, anyway) the library book sale season. The sale was much smaller this year than last, mostly because the room used this year was much smaller. Last year they used one entire end of the library, but this year that so busy with various library programs that they cannot take it for an entire week. They were re-stocking the books as space frees up (though I think all the science fiction was out at the start). But as a result of this shrinkage, we bought very little--Carlos Ruiz Zafon's SHADOW OF THE WIND (which I reviewed in the 04/22/05 issue of the MT VOID), three Terry Pratchett books, a Harlan Ellison collection we did not have, THE ULTIMATE DRACULA, a Douglas Preston novel, and a Penguin 60 (Oscar Wilde's PORTRAIT OF MR W. H.). All this for $5.50!

Actually, checking my notes for last year, this is three more books than we got then (but only because someone donated their entire Pratchett collection). The trend toward marking up more books continues, but those prices seem a tad lower. There was a lot of hardcover fiction, not moving very fast, and also a lot of "Franklin Mint"-type books: leather (or leatherette) covers, gold edges, and apparently unread. Someone bought quite a few of these at the beginning, and I saw them bring in another batch. Frankly, they look like books I would not want to read--too stiff-looking, I suppose. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Always and never are two words you should 
           always remember never to use.
                                          -- Wendell Johnson

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