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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/12/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 15, Whole Number 1462
Table of Contents
I need to proofread a little better. Last week I got the titles of two films wrong, as readers have pointed out. The correct titles are THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and UNFORGIVEN. [-mrl]
And so do I--last week's issue was Volume 26, Number *14*, not 13. [-ecl]
A Red Hot News Flash (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My recreational drug of preference is in the news once again. Yes, if I am to be perfectly honest with myself I have to admit to being a capsaicin abuser. In my defense I will point out that capsaicin is not illegal, immoral, or fattening. I am not sure it is even addictive. I think that most health authorities accept that if you are going to use a recreational drug, capsaicin is a really good choice. And it gets a lot of good press. I was just reading this article "Pain Relief without Numbness." It is a new technique that will eliminate pain without causing a deadening of all feeling. I picked up on the phrase "the new technique involves an initial injection of hot pepper spice." I just have a little skepticism. In the notorious "Gimpy's Chicken Wings of Fire" incident I administered orally to myself a mega-dose of capsaicin. I can tell you that for a few hours capsaicin did not work at all effectively as a pain reliever.
A Die-off of Tongues (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was reading an article in the October 1 US NEWS & WORLD REPORT called "A Future with Fewer Tongues: Half of languages are dying." There are approximately 7000 different languages in the world. Of these more than half are dying off. More than 3500 of them are not likely to last out the century. Think about that. That means a language will die on the average every three weeks for the rest of the century. There are languages that only ten people speak currently and they probably do not speak it most of the time. The speakers have more commonly spoken languages that they use. Now my first reaction was to ask myself, is the die- off then such a bad thing? It seems at first brush to be a fairly painless death. What is happening is that young people are voluntarily learning and using the language of the dominant culture. It would be one thing if they were being forced to abandon the languages that they prefer to speak. That is not really what is happening. What is happening is that young people are finding that their entertainment and their livelihood require them to use the language of the major culture in their area. Some may be reluctant to abandon the language of Grandpa, but the if they want to watch television or see a movie, it will probably not be in Grandpa's language. More and more they only thing they can do with the language is to speak to Grandpa, and when Grandpa dies there will not be even that.
The downside of this is that a major piece of culture is lost. The upside is that it makes life a lot easier when there is no language barrier. It is a tradeoff.
In places like the United States not only are the arcane languages dying, but some major languages are not used much at all. Americans are notorious for believing that knowing only one language is sufficient. You would think that language would be English. For the most part you would be right, but there are also people who know only Spanish and there are smaller groups for which the one language is something else. But in America much more than Europe we seem to be in large part monolingual.
Admittedly in Europe it may be easier to learn many different languages. I suspect that most British, for example, do come in contact with French-speakers early in their lives when it is easiest to learn other languages, so it is easy to pick up French. They may be less likely to do well with Swahili.
Until recently the only language that people really have had to know in the United States has been English. And a lot of people know only English. I suspect that in the next fifty years there will be a lot more people in the main population who know Spanish the way so many British know French.
A possible solution to the whole language problem at one time was going to be Esperanto. If everybody spoke Esperanto as an easy- to-learn second language, each person could communicate and he could maintain whatever he wanted as his main language. It is a nice theory, but getting everybody to cooperate is the problem. It would work only if a sizable part of the population bought into learning Esperanto. But the advocates of the language started with nobody who spoke it and wanted to get everybody to learn it. It is hard to go from nobody to almost everybody, particularly when what we are talking about is the effort of learning a language involved. At least for the foreseeable future the de facto universal second language is English, assuming that people do not speak it as a first language. I have traveled to something like 55 countries and it is very hard to find a place where you cannot get by on just English. Again a big contributing factor to this is ubiquitous English-language entertainment industry.
I wonder how much the threat of a threat the losing languages is. At least in this country the loss of language is in large part for lack of effort to save the language by the speakers of that language. They speak a language, but do not pass it on to their children. At least in this country that is their choice. Certainly the people who are best in a position to save a dying language is people who currently speak it. If they are not committed to saving the language, who should be? It is hard to come in as a third party and say that someone must teach a language to an uninterested next generation. One can say he wants to learn the language and preserve its literature, but that is actually an invasive way of preserving a language and is not very natural.
Next week I will discuss more on the positives and negatives of making due with fewer human languages.
For more information:
Real-Life TIE Fighters (letter of comment by Greg Frederick):
Greg Frederick writes:
I read recently that NASA just launched the Dawn spacecraft which will journey to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This craft will travel 3 billion miles using three ion drive engines. And orbit or fly-by a few asteroids there. Read part of the article from the Internet below. It will accelerate for six years! It could never do that using conventional rocket fuel, so that is why they are using the ion drive. It also has to stop at a few asteroids.
"Dawn carries 937 pounds (425 kilograms) of Xenon gas, to which it gives an electric charge to create ions that are then catapulted out of its engines at nearly 90,000 miles per hour (144,840 kph). Over time, the ion push builds up, and allows Dawn to change its flight path to first rendezvous, then orbit, multiple targets like Vesta and Ceres without requiring massive amounts of conventional rocket fuel.
"The first time I ever heard of ion propulsion was in a 'Star Trek' episode," said Rayman, adding that such engines are also touted to propel the TIE fighters--or Twin Ion Engine--of "Star Wars" fame. "Dawn does the TIE fighter one better because it has three ion engines."
While it will take Dawn four days to go from zero to 60 miles per hour (96 kph), the probe will gradually pick up speed as it fires its ion drive nonstop for the next six years, NASA has said, adding that the mission is the agency's first operational science expedition powered by ion propulsion."
It's interesting how sometimes science will develop ideas and concepts from science fiction. I realize that many times science fiction is coming up with ideas that do not ever materialize in our everyday world but it is neat when that imagination sparks a good idea that can be practical. [-gf]
Did you see the film THE AVIATOR? It presents Howard Hughes as a genius of aviation. He did not do all the engineering himself, by a long shot. But he had an instinct for knowing what innovations in aircraft he should ask his engineers to work on. He had a feel for what comes next. He said something like, "put in a stronger engine and make it a monoplane rather than a biplane." A feeling of what comes next is very important in creating the future.
Science fiction is very poor as a predictor of the future. There are so many possible futures and no expert knows what future will come to pass. But it gives people an instinct for what is possible and what comes next. It is no coincidence that wen we got pocket telephones they ended up looking a lot like Star Trek communications devices. You come away from Star Trek with the feeling that there should be a pocket communication device and should be able to just pick it up and flip the lid back and there is your communicator. Part of this is that when you produce a science fiction series you have to think about what would a pocket communicator be like. You might be one of the first people who ever gave it any thought. Maybe the ideas for the best design were "low-hanging fruit" that the first people to think seriously about the problem would find. Or maybe people just come away from a program like "Star Trek" with the idea that a flip-open communicator is a cool idea. But science fiction does seem to influence the real world.
(If TIE really does stand for Twin Ion Engine--which it does-- doesn't that make a TIE fighter a sitting duck?) [-mrl]
Westerns (letter of comment from Daniel Kimmel):
In response to Mark's two-part article on Western films in the 09/28/07 and 10/05/07 issues of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes, "Interesting choices of which we are mostly in agreement. When I teach westerns I conclude with LONELY ARE THE BRAVE as the ultimate 'end of the west' Western. They've already seen UNFORGIVEN and THE SHOOTIST at that point, so this is just taking things a little further." [-dk]
Public Libraries and Western Films (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on public libraries in the 10/05/07 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolanksy writes, "On the issue of SF classics being discarded by public libraries: I practice what I call 'guerrilla librarianship'. When I go to the library I often check out a few great SF books; leave them in my car; then return them on my next visit. Books which show circulation are less likely to be 'deaccessioned'. [-tw]
And in response to Mark's comments on Westerns in the 09/28/07 and 10/05/07 issues, Taras writes:
Mark overlooks what is sometimes considered the best Western of all time: John Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956), which was selected as the best American film (of any genre!) of the sound era by CAHIERS DU CINEMA in the early 1970s. And then there is Howard Hawks' RED RIVER (1948), which is so iconic, Peter Bogdanovich chose it to epitomize the closing of the frontier, in The Last Picture Show (1971); in fact, it's literally the last picture show in the dying town's closing theater.
John Wayne turned down HIGH NOON because it didn't make sense to him. And I think he was right: if the badge means so little to you that you will grind it in the dirt, why did you risk your life to uphold it? But then, this film is an allegory, rather than a picture of the Old West. (Wayne had the advantage--or disadvantage?--of being much closer culturally and psychologically to the people of the Old West than most people in modern Hollywood were or are.)
Siskel & Ebert praised UNFORGIVEN* (1992) for casting a black man (Morgan Freeman) in a role written for a white man. Which, ironically, is the one aspect of the film I find most, um, unforgivable! Because at the time of the story, whipping a white man and whipping a black man were very different things. If the black man were a former slave with whip marks on him already, or if he didn't have any marks, in either case there would have been comment. So S&E praised the film precisely for being unrealistic. (*According to IMDB, *THE* UNFORGIVEN is the title of the 1960 movie with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn.) [-tw]
THE SEARCHERS was not overlooked. I mentioned it in the first installment. I do not like it quite as much as other people do. To me it is a good Western and not great. There were no films on the top ten list that I felt I wanted to take off to put it on. RED RIVER the same is true of, but I did not mention that one.
I knew that Wayne did not particularly like HIGH NOON, where the sheriff is so anxious to get the town to help him stand up to the Miller Gang. Wayne thought that wasn't man-like and made RIO BRAVO with a similar situation, but the sheriff wants to handle everything himself so other people do not hurt. His character proves Wayne's point by without help blowing the heck out of the outlaw gang, just like the script was written. And he does it with so much ease there is time for a song from both Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, just like the script was written. That is because John Wayne in that film is a *real man*, just like the script was written. I noticed that the badge meant a lot to Gary Cooper's character in HIGH NOON and then he throws it on the ground. (I don't think he grinds it.) I interpreted that to mean that the character changed over the course of the film. He came to realize how little the principles he had fought for really meant to the people in the town. Wayne did not change very much in the course of RIO BRAVO. He didn't have to. He is John Wayne. He plays an archetype, not a real person. I disagree with your comment Wayne was "much closer culturally and psychologically to the people of the Old West than most people in modern Hollywood were or are." Actually I think he was a lot closer to the characters in the old dime novels than he was to the people who really lived in the West. Perhaps there were a handful of people who were larger than life, just like any time and place, but his type of character was a long way from being typical of the real west. At least that is my understanding. [-mrl]
A Poor Corrupt Official (letter of comment by David F. Shallcross):
In response to Mark's use of the phrase "a poor corrupt official" in his review of John Stanley's I WAS A TV HORROR HOST in the 10/05/07 issue of the MT VOID, David Shallcross writes,"You are 'only a poor corrupt official'? I presume and hope that this is a literary reference of sort, possibly Chinese. Would you enlighten me?" [-dfs]
It took me a little time to remind myself where I had said it.
Claude Rains to Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA:
[Rick and Captain Renault discussing Victor Laszlo's chances of escaping Casablanca.]
Captain Louis Renault: This is the end of the chase.
Rick Blaine: Twenty thousand francs says it isn't.
Captain Louis Renault: Is that a serious offer?
Rick Blaine: I just paid out twenty. I'd like to get it back.
Captain Louis Renault: Make it ten. I'm only a poor corrupt official.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In THURSDAY NEXT: FIRST AMONG SEQUELS (ISBN-13 978-0-670-03871-8, ISBN-10 0-670-03871-7), the fifth in the series that began with THE EYRE AFFAIR, Jasper Fforde is back at the top of his form. He has the usual punning character names (e.g., Cherie Yogert, Cliff Hangar, Harris Tweed), but also more subtle character names, such as Isambard Kingdom Bunuel, "the finest and most surreal book engineer.... When he constructed WAR AND PEACE, no one thought that anything of such scale and grandeur *could* be built, let alone launched...." If you don't get the joke, maybe this book is not for you.)
Fforde also deals with the mechanics of Book World. "Books suffer wear and tear, just the same as hip joints, cars and reputations. For this reason all books have to go into the maintenance bay for a periodic refit, either every thirty years or every million years, whichever comes first. For those books that suffer a high initial readership but then lose it through boredom or insufficient reader intellect, a partial refit may be in order. Salmon Thrusty's intractable masterpiece THE DEMONIC COUPLETS had had its first two chapters rebuilt six times, but the rest is relatively unscathed."
The plot revolves around Thursday attempts to deal with the decline in reading rates, and the attempt to improve them with such devices as interactive reality shows of the classics. The decline is illustrated by Thursday going to Booktastic!, which now has three coffeehouses (one with a branch of itself *inside* itself), DVDs, stationary, gifts, computer games, and a staff that has no idea what a book is:
"I was wondering if you had any books."
"Books. Y'know--about so big and full of words arranged in a specific order to give the effect of reality?"
"You mean DVDs?"
"No, I mean *books*. They're kind of old-fashioned."
"Ah!" she said. "What you mean are *videotapes*."
"No, what I mean are *books*."
We'd exhausted the sum total of her knowledge, so she went into default mode. "You'll have to see the manager."
There's lots more like this, with Fforde taking a good look at just what is causing the drop in reading, and what it might lead to, and how to counteract it. In quality, this *is* "First Among Sequels"--the best in the series since THE EYRE AFFAIR itself. Highly recommended.
(Note: Some people try to purchase all the books in a series they like in matching editions. I have to figure out what edition to buy to maintain my record: I have the other books in the series with no two matching. My copy of THE EYRE AFFAIR is a US Viking hardback, LOST IN A GOOD BOOK is a US Viking trade paperback, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS is a UK Penguin trade paperback, and SOMETHING ROTTEN is a NEL trade paperback.)
A CROSS OF CENTURIES edited by Michael Bishop (ISBN-13 978-1-56025-926-8, ISBN-10 1-56025-926-4) is a collection of stories, mostly reprints, dealing with Jesus in some form or other. This is a collection that may appeal more to believers (although too specific a belief may also be an obstacle). Worth noting is that Bishop says in his introduction, "Finally, I want to acknowledge contributor Barry Malzberg's insightful objection to any and all theme anthologies: the loss of surprise and so of pleasure attending readers' awareness that at some point, in some way, the tale before them absolutely *must* deal with an aspect of that theme." (But this did not stop Malzberg from allowing the inclusion of his own story "Understanding Entropy"--nor is there any reason why it should.)
X-RATED BLOODSUCKERS by Mario Acevedo (ISBN-13 978-0-06-083327-5, ISBN-10 0-060-83327-0) is a first-person hard-boiled detective novel with a twist: the detective is also a vampire. Frankly, it frequently seemed like too much, with the writing about the vampirism getting in the way of the writing about the detection. The plot itself deals with vampirism, which is fine, but long descriptions of the need to find blood, repetitions of how bland food is without blood, and so on, brought the story to a screeching halt (for me, anyway). Also, it could be that Acevedo is using a more colloquial Spanish than I learned, but "queen" is "reina", not "rena" (with a tilde over the 'n'), and "Chicano" refers to Mexicans, not Panamanians or other Latin Americans ("Latino" is the more general term). The work is an unusual combination of genres, and I cannot say it is bad, just that I thought there was too much for Acevedo to juggle. You may disagree. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. -- Mark Twain
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