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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/21/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 12, Whole Number 1459
Table of Contents
Yet Another Correction (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper and Gerard Ryan):
In last week's correction, I mistakenly referred to Gerald Ryan. It should have been Gerard Ryan, as he writes: "It's Gerard Ryan, not Gerald, but I go by Jerry, with a J. When someone says, 'Wow, did you know that there is a Jeri Ryan on STAR TREK?", I always answer this way: "Of course I do. It's me. On TV, I actually look like a very attractive woman." [-gwr]
I hope to eventually get this right. :-( [-ecl]
Free Speculative Fiction On-Line:
People can find a variety of free speculative fiction, both old and new, at http://www.freesfonline.de/Home1.html. [-ecl]
The Case of the Weeping Hunting Dog (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If I am to explicate the charges made by the complainant, one Mr. E. Presley, it is that the unnamed accusee is to be classified a canine of a hunting variety, but one with persistent proclivities toward weeping. In testimony directed at the accusee Mr. Presley rules out for himself any other posture that the accusee might assume. He further implies that said proclivities to weep inhibit the accusee from rising above this purported status of "hunting dog." It should be noted at this point that though most hunting dogs are capable of whimpering, few extend their emotional expression to actual weeping.
Mr. Presley then arguably further undermines his own characterization of the accusee as a "hunting dog" by defaming the accusee's actual hunting record as to be one inferior to that one would expect of a hunting dog and also a supposed lack of an expected affinity for Mr. Presley.
Mr. Presley goes on to defame supposed third parties, also unnamed, stating that such parties represented the accusee as being an individual of high social status. This contention, he claims, was a blatant misrepresentation of the facts and the characterization is presented as being purely specious. Mr. Presley at this point returns to defaming the accusee's hunting prowess and claims the accusee self-invalidates herself from participating in a mutually advantageous relationship with Mr. Presley.
One might continue with Mr. Presley's testimony, but what follows is a transparent repetition of the foregoing and hence requires no continued detailed analysis. [-mrl]
When Nature Reinvented the Dinosaur (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You may have heard that naked mole rats have a societal structure that is very similar to that of hive insects. Nature seems to recreate certain life styles in other animals. Of late I am reading that there was a beast that lived like the old allosaurs and tyrannosaurs and for a while it was thought that they lived contemporary with man. If humans did live around phorusrhacids it might explain our fascination with dinosaurs. Phorusrhacids (colloquially called "terror birds") were not dinosaurs. (Okay, all birds are technically dinosaurs, but they are no more dinosaurs than are robins.). But they readopted the dinosaur niche in nature. They clearly reached a level of nasty that would have been impressive even in a dinosaur. Until recently it was thought they lived up to about 10,000 years ago which would have made them contemporary with man. Now it looks like they died out two million years ago.
So what is a phorusrhacid? That is pronounced "FORE-us-*RASS*- id." It was a very big, very mean bird. If you ever saw the 1961 version of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND you have the beginnings of the idea. In the film the castaways are attacked by a very large flightless bird. It may have been inspired by a phorusrhacid for all I know, but they actually were bigger and meaner. But the thing in that film looks much like is a phorusrhacid.
Imagine a bird along the lines of an ostrich but seven feet tall and at least 330 pounds or more. It had a huge, sharp beak. The beak is long so the head looks like a flamingo. Except its head is the size of a horse head and massive enough it has been described as being usable like a battering ram. And it was mean. They are not called "terror birds" for nothing. They wandered the Americas and probably were about the top of the food chain. Just last year a new subspecies was discovered ten feet tall, about one quarter ton in weight with a beak that could have crushed coconuts. From the foot claws of some phorusrhacids we get the idea that they used their feet in maiming or killing. The claws are curved and sharp-tipped. Its throat was big enough that it could swallow a medium sized dog in a single gulp. More recently North American specimens have been found with strong arms, not like an ostrich. It probably could use these arms in a fight also.
There is quite a bit of debate about how fast the things must have run. Some scientists think that it might have been slow and ambushed its prey. Some think that it might run at about thirty miles per hour, about the speed that an ostrich can run. An older cousin, also called a terror bird, could probably manage twice that speed. As they have been reconstructed it was thought that they might stalk their prey from the cover of high grass. They would jump out and attack using their feet to slash and kick victim. Once the victim was disabled, they would attack with their large sharp beaks over a foot long, ripping and tearing their victims apart. They could use their arms to keep the prey from goring them with horns or kicking them. They are thought to have used similar hunting techniques to those used by velociraptors.
Terror birds had ruled South America for about 27 million years. They somehow spread to North America. There is some mystery as to how they did that since the two continents were not yet connected at the time. But they found their way to North America, probably before there was a land bridge. South America had been an island continent and they had ruled the roost, so to speak. When they got to North America they were pitted (or pitted themselves) against more formidable predators like saber- toothed tigers. It was probably a fairly impressive battle between the two. There are fossils of the menacing birds found near Santa Fe and it is thought they also invaded the Florida area.
Scientists studying the birds have suggested a sort of atavism, a return to a body structure and behavior that mimicked earlier dinosaurs. Terror birds in South America reinvented the dinosaur way of life some 40 million years after the dinosaurs disappeared.
See http://discovermagazine.com/1997/jun/terrortaketwo1149 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorusrhacidae
For illustrations of the beasts and more information see http://tinyurl.com/2ns8q7 and http://tinyurl.com/2398w8
PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The Salton Sea is a man-made monstrosity. Engineering mistakes created the Salton Sea, turned it temporarily into a tourist attraction, and then made it one of the ugliest places in America. The documentary looks at the history of the region and the people trapped in this environmental nightmare. This film is fascinating like a slow motion road accident. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
My introduction to the Salton Sea was a 1957 sci-fi monster movie THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD. In that film an earthquake accidentally releases giant prehistoric mollusks into the Salton Sea. A Navy research base next to the sea has to eliminate the menace. It is a natural disaster. In fact, it probably is no worse than what really happened in the history of the Salton Sea. But most of the problems around the Salton Sea are of human creation.
The sea was created by an engineering miscalculation in 1905. A dam had stood between the Colorado River and the Salton Sink in the Imperial Valley of Southern California. When the dam was washed away 90% of the flow of the Colorado was accidentally diverted and filled the basin known as the Salton Sink. Suddenly California had a new largest lake. The area between Palm Springs and the Mexican border became a popular recreation area in the 1950s. It was even nicknamed "California's Riviera". However it has suffered a string of disasters, mostly man-made. Runoff from the surrounding agriculture has made the lake polluted and very saline. The net result is a landscape of extraordinary repulsiveness. How did the Salton area go from being California's water play-spot to this seemingly ravaged, post- holocaust environment? What sorts of people still live there and why? These are the subjects of a documentary by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer. The visions of 1950s kitsch chic architecture hunkering in silt and decaying makes John Waters a very appropriate choice for the film's narrator.
In the course of the film the producers talk to many of the prominent people living on the fetid shores of the Salton Sea. These are people have become accustomed to the annual cycle that includes the salt forcing the oxygen out of water. On a regular basis this kills the fish that wash up on the shores in the tens of thousands carrying botulism that poisons the birds that feed on them. The film can only describe and not really convey the smell.
Among the residents of the area is Hunky Daddy. He was at one time a Hungarian freedom fighter, but has found his freedom by the Salton Sea where he rants in a thick accent, drinks beer, and pulls down his pants to embarrass passersby. Another local wanders the beach waving at people wearing only tennis shoes and a big smile. One resident has built Salvation Mountain, a hill of junk and old tires dedicated to Jesus. (Jesus was not available for comment.) This is a place where the tacky is about as good as it gets.
The film looks at three communities living around the Salton Sea. There is Bombay Beach (population 366), Niland (population 1143), and Salton City (population 978). These places are ugly and depressing. People seem to be trapped there because the land is inexpensive and so moving in is a lot easier than moving out. But the film makes one reflect: Is living in one of these communities really any worse than living in a cardboard box in a polluted Mexico City? Are these people really worse off than the homeless in Manhattan are? The fact is that a good deal of our planet has been made ugly and dismal. The Salton area is not unique even in the fact that they live among the sad vestiges of a past when their area was an attraction rather than a repulsion. Many ugly places show the remnants of a better older age. The strange collection of weirdos who try to make the best of life are not so unique as the film might suggest. So the world turns.
PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA is a sort of ecological morality tale. If its history is not unique, it is certainly bad enough. We learn that this place is an environmental disaster happening in slow motion. It is one of many that really need to be fixed and which probably will not. I rate the film a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0438327/
Classic Movies (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In his comments on Worldcons in the 09/14/07 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote, "But no TV stations had or would show MAD LOVE with Peter Lorre. It was a little too weird for general audiences I would guess. A convention was where I finally caught up with it in 1977. I don't think I got another chance to see it until the 1990s." [-mrl]
Andre Kuzniarek responded, "I was happy to finally see MAD LOVE in the mid-80s when I believe AMC showed it. I'm not sure what AMC's programming is like now, I no longer have access to it, but when it began in the mid-80s, it featured many classic as well as obscure movies without commercial interruption. I was especially happy to see great film noir and screwball comedies, and taped many of them to create a library--on Betamax! I still have them, and the machine that taped them, and it still works, but I have not been able to watch them again for lack of time and too many DVDs to get through..." [-ak]
If you are interested I can bring you up to date on AMC, though it is a sad story. In the days you saw it AMC competed directly with Turner Classic Movies. Both showed classic films uninterrupted. Both had a great deal of respect for their material.
I think AMC found it was more profitable to abandon most of the older classics and usually any film in black and white. I think they are more willing to edit for television. They also put their irritating logo on the lower right of the screen, though they have not (yet) gone to moving ads as a distraction. They are not as bad as some stations for commercials, but they do interrupt frequently with longer ads. All this frequently puts them on basic cable because they are no longer (as?) viewer- sponsored and the advertising pays their way. They are doing better by aiming at a less discriminating audience. Real cinema fans still have, if they can get them, Turner Classic Movies and to a lessor extent the Fox Movie Channel.
In our household, apparently like yours, DVDs have more or less taken both AMC's and TCM's place. Ironically, now that I can see some of these films whenever I want, I see them less frequently. (Though MAD LOVE is probably an exception to the irony. I have watched the DVD multiple times. [-mrl]
And Evelyn adds:
And AMC pans-and-scans the movies as well. They in fact changed so much that they lost a law suit over it. Time Warner Cable dropped them in 2003 (or earlier), and AMC sued for "breach of contract". Time Warner Cable countered that they had agreed to carry a station of classic movies and AMC was not that station any more. Time Warner Cable won. [-ecl]
Reading Habits (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick):
In response to Mark's article on Worldcons in the 09/14/07 issue of the MT VOID, Greg Frederick writes:
I read your comments in the recent MT VOID fanzine about how the average age is increasing at the Worldcons. You are probably correct that since today's youth are not reading as much as our generation and that would reduce their attendance at a literature-oriented Con. I tend to read more (non-fiction) science fact and history books these days and, except for a few friends from my past who read some of this subject matter, I have not run into many others (especially younger individuals) who like to read these subject or even like to read any other literature. It's even difficult to find science books at a number of bookstores. I have to go to a large Barnes and Noble or a large Borders store to find a decent selection. These days I order them online at Amazon too. I have seen where some (non- franchise) bookstores that have been in business in Metro-Detroit for many years are closing due to poor sales. The auto economy down-turn isn't helping them but the owners indicated that they see a trend where younger customers are just not buying non- fiction and fiction literature books as in years past. Comics probably still sell well but I am not referring to them. As you stated the youth of today prefer media as in movies, video games and probably easy to read comics. I do read comics sometimes myself but I do like reading non-fiction books too. It's not a good trend. [-gf]
Worldcons (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's article on Worldcons in the 09/14/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes (with Mark's replies interspersed):
Well, Mark, your opening commentary will probably provoke a lot of response. It worked on me.
I have only attended two WorldCons: MidAmeriCon (1976) and IguanaCon (1978), and loved them both.
[Mark says: Those are among the best I remember also. -mrl]
They were definitely full of that indefinable "verve" you mentioned: lots of energy, and I felt very connected to the programming, people, and events. Your musings that WorldCons are becoming less pleasurable due to the media and gaming influence--call it "pop culture" since that is what it is--makes perfect sense to me. The cost of attending WorldCons has been prohibitive to me over the years, even during my first active period in fandom.
[Mark says: That is a very bad sign. You are the type of fan Worldcons need. -mrl]
But when I peruse the web sites of recent WorldCons, I have to agree with you that there really isn't much in the way of programming--films included--that catches my interest. Perhaps that is because I am more literary oriented and definitely fanzine fanac oriented, but I do enjoy stfnal movies a great deal. You are right in that many panels cater to sub-genres and political agendas (e.g., feminism, LGBT issues, the handicapped, etc.),and those don't interest me much either. That does not mean I don't care about those issues. Far from it. It is just that, like you, I would go to any science fiction convention to escape political issues and pressures of the daily world. After all, fandom is supposed to be a fun thing to do.
[Mark says: You where there when Worldcons were politicized I think. Harlan Ellison got in front of the audience and complained "what had fandom ever done for the world? Fandom should be working for feminism." That seems to me to be the point that it really got political and it has been so ever since. I may have agreed with his politics but not his tactics of politicizing fandom. I always cared more that someone was interested in the SF I was and not that they voted the same way I did. For a while it really got bizarre. They had special areas for women where they did not have to be around men and claimed that this was fighting sexism. That sort of thing eventually went away, but there is still a lot of political rhetoric on panels. The convention committees did not take a stand against politicizing conventions so conventions were politicized. -mrl]
I suspect that the changing demographic of WorldCons has a lot to do with this. Most of the folks in fandom that I know and enjoy hanging out with are at least my age and upwards. There are younger fans, of course, that I enjoy being with and would love to meet and greet more fresh blood into the clan, but for the most part, the folks I prefer to hang with don't really go to WorldCons much. Some do, but most would prefer Corflu if given a choice. That would be my choice, too.
[Mark says: I am more likely to pick people by interests. There is always the situation when I am with a friend and I tell him how old I am and get "REALLY??? You know you're just a year younger than my father" or something similar. -mrl]
Plus the foreign WorldCons definitely would put the financial crunch on younger fans who might drive, bus, or fly to a major regional con in America, but could not afford trips to Japan, England, Australia, or where-ever else. Heck, I think the Montreal 2009 WorldCon would not be as well-attended as if Kansas City had won the bid simply because it is not as centrally located. Canada really isn't that big of a jump to get to, but simply being in another country is going to nudge that con out of the pocketbook range of a number of fans, myself included.
Yes, I miss going to WorldCons, but not really that much. I miss being with the people more than anything, and them I can get together with at assorted conventions here in the States. It is a conundrum. I really don't have future WorldCon attendance plans in store, even with Denver only a two-day's drive from home. For some reason, I simply am not interested anymore. Maybe it's because a lot of the authors I loved as a young man have died or don't write anymore due to their age and health. Fans are getting up there in age, too, and that puts another crimp on enjoying a con nowadays. I dunno.
[Mark says: We are much in agreement. -mrl]
So I really don't miss attending WorldCons. It's an interesting development in my fannish lifestyle. Well, all I can say is: it happens.
[Mark says: I have not given up on them, but for some it is probably going through the motions. -mrl]
Thanks for the zine. [-jp]
And later, John replies to Mark's comments:
Like you, I also get that "Geez, you're older than my folks" from my students all the time. *sigh* But then they say things like "You don't look/act like you're in your 50s" or "You're not a couch slug like *my* dad," which makes me feel good, I guess. Talk about your left-handed compliments! And I really am left-handed!
Yeah, I remember Harlan's politicization of Iggy. Things--as in WorldCons, that is--really haven't been the same since. I tend to avoid political/special interest panels at cons unless, of course, I really am interested in the subject and want to hear what the distinguised panelists have to say. Quite often I personally know the panelists, which is another factor to add into the con-going equation.
So WorldCons need me there, eh? Eeewww.... Things have gotten bad, haven't they? [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Here again is Stephen Prothero's religious literacy test, this time with the answers:
UN LUN DUN is China Mieville's first YA (young adult) novel (ISBN-13 978-0-345-49516-7, ISBN-10 0-345-49516-0), and it is on my list of novels to nominate for the Hugo. Mieville takes the conventions and tropes of fantasy, and of literature, and turns them on their head. For example, reading this I got to a point where I suddenly decided that Mieville had been strongly influenced by the opening line of Charles Dickens's DAVID COPPERFIELD ("Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."). And it also seems as though he used Diana Wynne Jones's A TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND as a cautionary work. In addition to these elements, there is a lot of wordplay--in addition to Un Lun Dun, we have Parisn't and Lost Angeles, and the river in Un Lun Dun is the Smeath. If the threat in the novel is a bit more topical than the usual evil wizard sort of stuff, well, that's okay too.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING BOOKS by Ian Sansom (ISBN-13 978-0-06-082250-7, ISBN-10 0-06-082250-3) is "A Mobile Library Mystery", which makes it sound like a later book in a series, but in fact it is the first book in a series. It is billed as "expertly comic", and I suppose of you find the notion that people who live in rural Northern Ireland act and talk as though they are brain-damaged comic, you will laugh a lot. It struck me as of the same ilk as Stella Gibbons's COLD COMFORT FARM, but not as funny. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -- Douglas Adams
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