MT VOID 11/23/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 21, Whole Number 1468

MT VOID 11/23/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 21, Whole Number 1468

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/23/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 21, Whole Number 1468

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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

Ahead of His Time (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A very 21st century subject of science fiction is the concept of destructive memes. It is interesting that Mark Twain wrote a science fiction story on the subject, probably thinking it humor but without ever realizing it was science fiction (since the genre had not yet been invented). The story is called variously "Punch, Brothers, Punch" or "A Literary Nightmare."

While I am recommending, another good story (not science fiction) is on-line, Kressmann Taylor's "Address Unknown": (PDF)


Space Art (comments by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper):

George MacLachlan sent us this video of how at least one artist is producing space art in record time:

Mark says, "Just shows what can be accomplished with careful effort and dedication. I am not keen on the results, but it is impressive what he can do in 75 seconds. Some of the video is really not clear on how he is getting the effect he is. He lays down a piece of paper and it seems to put down a whole landscape on the painting.)" [-mrl]

And Evelyn adds, "I'm sure Bob Eggleton does not do his paintings this way." [-ecl]

Trivia Answers:

1) Name a movie with at least ten speaking parts that has no female roles, only male. (There are several answers to this one.)

I probably should have specified speaking parts for women. In any case, I was thinking of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Other correct answers include BILLY BUDD, TWELVE ANGRY MEN, THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, and THE GREAT ESCAPE. All except BILLY BUDD have women in the background in some scenes, which I suppose makes BILLY BUDD the most correct answer. (STALAG 17 has Russian women prisoners who have lines of dialogue. BOYS IN THE BAND and ICE STATION ZEBRA have been suggested but I am unable to verify those yet.)

2) Name a movie with at least ten speaking parts that has no male roles, only female.

THE WOMEN (1939). According to the IMDB, there are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. In addition to its all-female cast, every animal that was used in the film (the many dogs and horses) was female as well. In addition, none of the works of art seen in the backgrounds were representative of the male form.

Dan Kimmel got both of these, but he's a trained professional, so I'm not exactly surprised. Steve Humphrey was the one who suggested ICE STATION ZEBRA.

Extra credit:
Name an opera by a well-known composer with at least ten singing roles that has no male singing roles, only female. Name another that has only male singing roles.

SUOR ANGELICA by Giacomo Puccini and BILLY BUDD by Benjamin Britten, respectively. [-ecl]

Delayed Landings (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We were watching CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. It opens in the middle of the Mexican desert. After having been lost for decades these planes show up without explanation just resting on a sand dune. Someone asks, "Where are the pilots?" Is he kidding? If they can land planes that late and that far off course they are now probably out flying for the major airlines. [-mrl]

Transfixed by Fascinating Ideas (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Do you want to hear some fascinating ideas? Do you want to sit transfixed staring at your PC screen for eighteen minutes? The site "The Edge"--a really good site for reading cutting edge ideas--linked to some talks from the TED series. What is TED? As the site puts it, "TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader. The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in eighteen minutes)." They currently have 163 of these talks, most shorter than 20 minutes. After hearing and seeing two of them I want to go through all of them. I though Carolyn Porco's account of discoveries on and near the planet Saturn was great, but Vilayanur Ramachandran's talk on brain damage and what it teaches us about the brain is spellbinding. If you are interested in the ideas of tomorrow's science fiction, go to the source.

The TED lectures are at

"The Edge" ideas web site, also no slouch when it comes to ideas, is [-mrl]

Image Advertising 101 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I heard an editorial in Canada about somebody who was watching a commercial about a power company whose advertising on television about how they were a "people" company. They love people. They like helping people. Their ads show pictures of children and people with flowers. The writer was a customer of the company and got a really warm feeling about the company every time she saw the ad.

Then she had a problem and had to deal with the company. She called them to report a problem. (This is the 21st century so I am sure you know what is coming.) This is a people company but what was at the other end of the line was not a person at all. It was a computerized answering system. It asked her a question. She pressed a number to answer it. It asked another question. She answered that. Well, it was a human voice that had made the recording. Another question. Another button press. Ten levels down she was finally through the dialog and heard a phone ringing. She was about to talk to a human being. Nope, it was an answering machine asking her to call back during office hours in another time zone. After a long time on the phone nobody even knew that she had called (unless there was a log some place that registered the call for the company's purposes). There were certainly not going to use it to call her back and offer service.

The woman said that the company's television advertisement was a very bad one. It advertised them as being very people-oriented company when in fact they really were not. Their commercial is not highlighting their strong points.

This editorial seemed to me to demonstrate a great deal of naivete about the purpose of advertising. The point of advertising is not to give an unbiased and objective view of the company to the public. Let me just explain this for people like my editorial writer. As obvious as it seems, some people do not understand. The purpose of an advertisement is to make money for a company. There are two kinds of advertising. There is the kind that tells you something like pork and beans will cost you 87 cents a can this week. And there is the kind of advertising that is intended to improve the image of the company or perhaps an event like a sale. This is image advertising. You can tell the difference because pork and beans actually will cost you 87 cents a can this week. (Well, maybe if you get there before they are sold out.)

Image advertising is an investment to either bring in more customers directly or to improve a company's image and bring in customers indirectly. The power company that the lady called was probably a company that had image problems for reasons that the woman could well understand. The company wanted to counter the image that that they had created with their policies. Yes, madam, a major element of image advertising is a phenomenon known as HYPOCRISY. When you see an image advertisement you should say to yourself that what you see in this advertisement is the opposite of what some or even most people believe.

As I travel I have been watching a lot of CNN. I have been seeing an advertisement from a certain well-known chemical company talking about how everything is made of elements, but the one element that is most important and which changes everything is "the Human element." They illustrate it like a cell of the Periodic Chart of the Element and give it the chemical symbol "Hu." I guess I am a little indignant that this particular company should tell us how important the human element is.

I am of the generation that was at risk for being sent to the Vietnam War. That same generation is now making business decisions as to whether to deal with this chemical company and so is watching these ads. But for them this company is a powerful symbol of that war. It was this company who made jellied gasoline to be carried in airplanes, ignited, and dropped onto Hu--onto the Human element. Perhaps they thought of Hu as being just chemicals, as it appears in the ads. The company has done some nasty things to good old Hu by contaminating Michigan with dioxin. The also have a wholly owned subsidiary (one we associate with batteries) that was responsible for the deadliest industrial accident in world history. One would think that this company is just about the last one to advertise that they believe in the human element, but that is just why they need the advertising.

When I see an image advertisement I immediately think that big money is being spent to counter what must be somebody's strong opinions to the contrary. Those may be false opinions, but that is not the way the smart money bets. [-mrl]

BEOWULF 3D (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Robert Zemekis's adaptation of the story of Beowulf is actually exciting and shows great imagination throughout. The oldest story in the English language (dating from about AD 700) combines with state of the art graphic technology to create a fast-paced and exhilarating heroic adventure. This film does a lot that is very hard to get right and most of it, it does get it right. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

At the same time that I am seeing BEOWULF, which I think represents some sort of new high in action and adventure in the animated film, I am also seeing digital 3D for what is, I think, the first time. Each did good things for the other. The two combined make for some genuinely thrilling action. The film is right on the borderline between animation and live action. We see real actors like Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie probably caught with motion capture and represented in animated form.

The first half of Robert Zemekis's BEOWULF is pretty much the story of Beowulf as it came down to us from Old English. The second half takes some large liberties, but it unifies what are really two different stories and cements them into more of a cohesive union. The adaptation is by the incomparable Neil Gaiman and Oscar-winning Roger Avary and generally where they take liberties they are well-considered and do make for a better story. The story could have been reduced to a thud-and-blunder action film, but the script has real characters and some psychological complexity. Gaiman seems to be involved in a lot of fantasy films these days and he may become to the fantasy film what Philip K. Dick belatedly became to the science fiction film. One odd touch was to have Grendel speak in Old English while everyone else speaks in more modern English. Everyone should have spoken Old English or no one should have.

The art design animation is imaginative and even audacious. For example, the visualization and presentation of Grendel is an idea I have not seen before. He appears as nearly human but distorted by extreme deformity and constantly in the throes of agony. It is almost painful to watch him. His super-strength seems to come from his torment like strength of a man who is on fire. The dragon in the film is at least imaginative though reminiscent of DRAGONSLAYER's Vermithrax Pejorative. The latter dragon has been the prototype of every flying dragon that has been shown on the screen since. The animation allows the viewer to fly with the dragon and fluidly move all around him. So those are two good monsters. The one real miscalculation is the representation of Grendel's mother. In the poem she is another fearsome looking monster. In the film she looks like Angelina Jolie has ran afoul of Goldfinger and then had some appendages added.

Then the animation is highly imaginative and full of little surprises. At one point we are looking from the rafters down into Wrothgar's great hall. Suddenly we realize we are seeing the scene from the eyes of a rat who then scurries down this perilous walkway. The fluidity of the animation makes the scene. The animated humans do not always look quite and when they miss, they miss in the same way that the humans in SHREK do not look quite human. But through the animation Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar is able to give his most vital and . . . well . . . animated performance in years. Of course it is getting harder and harder to define exactly what a performance actually means in a digitally animated film. For all we know Hopkins could have given his entire performance from the comfort of an easy chair and body doubles could have been used for the motion capture. But at times the viewer definitely has the feeling that Hopkins is there performing in shots so close you can see the pores of the skin on his nose.

One letdown is the score by Alan Silvestri. It simply fails to be in anyway exceptional or have any surprises. This is a film that sadly needed a Jerry Goldsmith or a Basil Poledouris. What was needed was music that was as picturesque as the images on the screen. The score should have told us more than merely "this scene is exciting." It should have created some impressive musical images.

This is certainly the greatest screen excitement I have had this year, in spite of some shortcomings of the script. BEOWULF gets a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It would be interesting to see what Ray Harryhausen thinks of this film. He really was the father of this sort of recreation of myth with the animated image. BEOWULF owes a lot to THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

Film Credits:


BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Two brothers--both having screwed-up lives and both needing money--try a daring robbery close to home and soon find things going from bad to much, much worse. The film has some powerful drama with Philip Seymour Hoffman turning in a superb performance. But the tone is relentlessly downbeat. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Sidney Lumet has been making very intelligent films since 12 ANGRY MEN half a century ago, and he still knows how to make a narrative powerful. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RER DEAD is compelling. It just is not a very pleasant film to watch. Andy (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are two brothers, each of whom has bollixed up his life and each of whom now very desperately needs money. Andy is a well-paid executive with good taste and a bad drug habit. Hank is more a misfit. He has an ex-wife who detests him because he cannot pay child support and cannot even afford the money to pay for his daughter's field trip to see "The Lion King". But Andy has planned out a neat little "victimless" crime that the two can commit to solve their money problems. Nobody gets hurt in his plan. Only the insurance company is out any money and that is the only harm. In the next few days their lives will be ripped apart as their plan go horrifyingly wrong.

The plotting of this film would nicely fit a Coen Brothers film. In fact, there are more than a few parallels to FARGO. But the Coen Brothers would play the story more for interesting twists, instead of with this degree of drama. This film goes more into the emotion of the situation and how the two brothers got to their current state. The third major character in the drama is their inflexible father Charles, played by Albert Finney. There is real tension between Charles and his two sons. When Andy and Charles face and confront each other the scene has definite Arthur Miller overtones. Each character of the three men is highly flawed and watching them drag each other down is a slow- motion train wreck.

In this film Sidney Lumet is experimenting with his style. I do not remember his ever having nudity in a film before. This time he shows us a great deal of flesh starting with the very first scene of the film and delivered handsomely by Marisa Tomei. Sadly for such a good actress, the nudity is perhaps her strongest contribution to this film. Her role shows off the outside of her body much more than the acting talent lodged within. The real power performer of this film is Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose acting reaches an intensity we have not seen from him before. He has never been a particularly charismatic actor. In fact, part of his interest value as an actor is his lack of magnetism, his negative charm. But in this role that does not stop him from delivering a powerhouse performance that is the real center of the film. In addition to Lumet's other experiments, he and screenwriter Kelly Masterson jump around in time, sometimes telling us when the scene is taking place and occasionally intentionally leaving the viewer to guess. Curiously, in one scene from the right angle, I noticed that Philip Seymour Hoffman really does resemble Albert Finney. Later a character comments on how Andy looks a lot like his father. I had to agree. That brings me to the brief but nice character role for veteran actor Leonardo Cimino. You may not recognize the name, but the weasel-like face should be familiar like an old friend.

This film is something of a downer as things just keep getting worse and worse for characters who really probably do not deserve much better. But the performances are more of an attraction than the story. I rate BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:


1453: THE HOLY WAR FOR CONSTANTINOPLE AND THE CLASH OF ISLAM AND THE WEST by Roger Crowley (book review by Mark R. Leeper):

The Byzantine Empire really began in A.D. 330 with Constantine I taking the city and renaming it Constantinople. The empire came to be called the Eastern Roman Empire until fall of Rome in 476 meant that there was no longer any Western Roman Empire. Then it became the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople remained its capital. Eventually the empire lost ground and was little more than just the one city. The city changed hands from Venetians to Byzantines to Greeks occasionally but after the Crusades still stood there as a bastion of Christianity against Islam and from very near the beginning of Islam it was a principle target for conquest. In the 14th century the Ottoman Turks started a new campaign to wrest it from its Christian population. The Ottoman Turks laid a heavy siege to the city and took it on May 29, 1453.

Roger Crowley's 1453: THE HOLY WAR FOR CONSTANTINOPLE AND THE CLASH OF ISLAM AND THE WEST looks in depth at the city, its people, and its ruler. It also covers the efforts of various factions of Islam to take it and convert it to a Moslem city. The efforts go back to an A.D. 629 letter from Muhammad himself to Heraclius, king of the Byzantines inviting him to convert his city to Islam. By that point the city had already dedicated it crown jewel, the huge Church of St. Sophia (today the St. Sophia Mosque). For several hundred years Constantinople's strategic location was the key to the Eastern struggles between the two religions.

Crowley introduces us to Constantine XI, who ruled from the city but with it inherited a troubled reign and unrest from his own people. He was born 1405 so was middle-aged and tired from internecine conflicts by the time the great siege came. His opponent, the Ottoman Turk Sultan Mehmet II, was twenty-seven years his junior with an army of dedicated followers about ten times the size of Constantine's. He enforced his will with ghoulish punishments like impalement. When Vlad Drakul (a.k.a. Dracula) used impalement against his Turkish enemies it was in reaction to the similar cruelty of the Turks. Constantine begged other Catholic powers for help, but they offered little.

Crowley introduces us to the engineering of the walls of Constantinople, then thought to be the ultimate defense against invaders. We also see the giant chain with eighteen-inch links used to block the mouth of the Bosphorus. Constantinople is a triangle with water on two of the sides. The city sits at the mouth of the Bosphorus with water on two sides. The chain blocked access to the waterways across the mouth of the inlet. Against these defenses were Mehmet's cannons, technology newly borrowed from the Christians, which ranged in size up to twenty- seven feet. Mehmet also has a navy and a clever strategy to get around the chained waterway.

But all this is prolog to the actual siege and battle. About half the book is devoted to Mehmet's campaign, the siege of the city, and the climactic battle. He brings his army to fighting range, destroys the defenses, and then orchestrates the battle to take and sack the city.

Crowley has a good clear prose style. This is history but it is not stodgy or distancing. It is always engrossing. The reader gets caught up in the battle and although he knows how it will turn out, it is still exciting to see the process unfold. The descriptions are visual and engaging. After the account of the bloody changing of hands of the city, Crowley brings the book to a quick finish.

The Siege of 1453 was a watershed of history and Crowley's coverage is enlightening and enjoyable.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Hyperion (August 16, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1-401-30850-3
ISBN-13: 978-1-401-30850-6


Cataloguing (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I have been reasonably conscientious about cataloging our books for the last forty years, and I also catalog our music, etc. There are two reasons for this cataloging: 1) we want to know what we have so that we don't buy it again, and 2) we want to be able to find what we have. The latter used to be straightforward: a book had a subject category and within that category everything was shelved (or boxed) alphabetically by author. Oh, occasionally a book would cross boundaries--should a playscript for DRACULA be filed under speculative fiction, drama, or cinema? And once in a while an oversize book had to be specially shelved. And books not as frequently used sometimes got boxed rather than shelved. So as the collection expanded, some books ended up with notations as to which box they were in.

Music was also pretty straightforward: records in one place, audiocassettes in another, CDs in a third, all divided into category and alphabetized. Anthologies were a little tricky, but manageable. But since I have separated spoken word (like old radio shows) and music (like Wagner), where do Anna Russell or Spike Jones go?

But now it's all up in the air. Press kits used to be paper; now they also come in CD-ROM format (often in a DVD case). DVDs come packaged with the CD for the soundtrack. Books have audio CDs of music to accompany them, or of the author reading excerpts. Audiobooks come on audiocassettes, audio CDs, and CD-ROMs, each compatible with different play-back equipment. In addition to VHS tapes and DVDs, there are also VCDs, and CD-ROMs as well. (And somewhere down the line are DVD-ROMs.)

I have no idea how librarians catalog some of these things. Our library interfiles audiocassettes and audio CDs. It also interfiles children's and non-fiction VHS cassettes and DVDs--but not adult feature film VHS cassettes and DVDs! I suspect that in most libraries the audio CD of Helen Vendler reading a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets is not catalogued separately from the book with which it came. And most libraries do not seem to have a lot of CD-ROMs of audiobooks or old radio shows--yet. But who knows what the future holds?

For now, I have settled on making additional notes for non- standard locations, but there are limits to how effective this can be. And all these cute marketing tricks don't help: packaging KING KONG in an oversized box also containing lobby cards, or a press kit for BULWORTH in a small cardboard suitcase, means that they simply cannot be filed with the other items in their category. [-ecl]

Global Warming (letter of comment by Hans Kernast):

In response to Mark's article on global warming in the 11/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, Hans Kernast writes:

The writer makes some very good new points about the dangers of global warming (climate change). I was unaware of the hydrogen sulfide extinction theory.

There are other triggers recently hypothesized, such as the release of methane gas from vast methane hydride stores in cold ocean bottoms. Under high pressure and cold, methane forms an ice like slush with water. The methane comes from rotting vegetation. If the oceans warm just enough, the methane is released. Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The problem with all of these scenarios is that the potential effects happen over a long time period (major fraction of a human life span). People tend not to react strongly and decisively to situations that get worse slowly over a long period of time.

Take Venice, Italy for example. Venice has been very slowly sinking for hundreds of years with more and more flooding. Because the situation is getting worse little by little (fraction of an inch or so per year of average water height), people argue endlessly about what to do and how much they are willing to spend. The best solution is the Holland solution: separate Venice from the sea by a system of massive dykes, and a system of locks to get to the sea. However, very few want to pay for this. So they will muddle on with stopgap measures forever.

The same with global warming. We are just starting to see effects around the edges. Very few are truly suffering. We have had severe storms many times in the past. What made hurricane Katrina so devastating was actually the failure of manmade levies. Most of the dire predictions are 40 to 50 years out. By then most of us will be dead or too old to care. The occasional beach front lost, a little less skiing in Switzerland, a few less polar bears etc., etc. People will just go about there daily business.

Another problem of course is that many still do not believe climate change is largely manmade or that it is going to get worse. I remember that in the 70's many climatologists were predicting a new ice age. We all know where that went. We now know why the predictions were wrong and what mistakes were made, but it still left a bad taste is some people's mouth. Why should climatologists be believed now without further study? Why change my lifestyle or endure extra costs to prevent something that *might* happen in 50 to 100 years? I think it is going to be a long and hard sell to convince a majority of the world's people to act decisively to limit man's activities that will make climate change worse with time.

People seem to respond better with threats that cause catastrophes in a few days to a few years. A great example is the mass extinction caused by a large enough rock hitting the earth. The best estimates astronomers have for another meteor mass extinction is at worst once in the next few million years. Yet we have already put in place all the observing tools to scan the heavens for such a possibility. I am sure that if mankind sustains at least our current level of technology, we will be perpetually safe from the next giant meteor hit. I am not so sure how we will fare if the Antarctica ice cap melts. [-hk]

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

I recently listened to an unabridged audiobook of THE LOST PAINTING: THE QUEST FOR A CARAVAGGIO MASTERPIECE by Jonathan Harr (read by Campbell Scott) (ISBN-13 978-0-375-50801-1, ISBN-10 0-375-50801-5; book ISBN-13 978-1-415-92502-7, ISBN-10 1-415-92502-X). I also read ILARIO by Mary Gentle, published in two parts: ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE (ISBN-13 978-0-060-82183-8, ISBN-10 0-060-82183-3) and ILARIO: THE STONE GOLEM (ISBN-13 978-0-061-34498-5, ISBN-10 0-061-34498-2). Both THE LOST PAINTING and ILARIO deal with Italian Baroque painting, though the former is a non-fiction work about the search for a lost work by Caravaggio, and the latter is an alternate history in which the narrator-protagonist is a painter traveling to Rome to learn the new style of painting that uses something called "perspective". As Ilario says of his work before his apprenticeship, "The body and face painted as if a man faces them straight on. And the feet are painted as if seen looking down from above. Everyone understands that. How else is it to be done!" And Masaccio tells him, "Perspective! ... You see the world distorted. Every man does! Foreshortened, shrunk, extended, compressed. Every man sees the world from his own perspective. Two ends of a building measure the same, but the one that's far off, you see small. And I, I don't paint what you know must be there, I paint what you see!"

ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE is not served well by its blurb, though: "This action-packed, deeply intelligent novel [is] a focus for intrigue, intellectual and a fair amount of polymorphous hot sexual action." [--"Time Out London"] This is likely to make a lot of people avoid it, but in reality, the (semi-explicit) sex is minimal. And calling the creature in it a "golem" is very misleading. The term "golem" is Hebrew, only became well-known after the 16th century, and has a specific mystical meaning. The creature here is an automaton created in the Carthage of Gentle's alternate history (which takes place in the 15th century), and no one in that world would apply the term "golem" to it, anymore than they would call it a "Frankenstein monster".

I do recommend ILARIO, though more for its study of gender roles than its alternate history; I would not be surprised if it were a nominee for the Tiptree Award. (Gentle has combined the two aspects before, particularly in 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE.) Gentle does have the story unfold in various parts of the Mediterranean--Carthage, Rome, Venice, Alexandria-in-Exile, and so on--but much of it has less to do with the altered political and social structure than with the specific characters. (The primary alternate history *feel* for me came from a naval encounter in the second book rather than the general setting.) However, in any case I have to say that I can see no good reason to have this published as two books instead of one other than to extract more money from the buyer (the two volumes total less than 700 pages), and hope that at some point it is issued as a single volume.

I recently finished THE COURSE OF EMPIRE by Bernard DeVoto (ISBN-13 978-0-395-92498-3, ISBN-10 0-395-92498-7). At one point during that time, I was watching an episode of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" and found myself thinking, "Why am I watching this when I could be reading THE COURSE OF EMPIRE?" Whether this says something about THE COURSE OF EMPIRE or about "Masters of Horror" (or indeed, about me) is left for you to decide.

In any case, DeVoto has a very flowery and enjoyable (to me, anyway) style. Writing of Europe in 1962, DeVoto says, "The imperial frontiers in North America were captive to the forces Louis XIV had loosed. The one last war that would master Europe exhausted Europe but settled nothing. For two years after it ended diplomacy tried to create a stable alignment of the powers. The best hope of peace lay in the fact that for half a century Spain had been falling like Lucifer son of morning and was now prostrate. Its possessions spread across Europe without logic of geography or nationality. If they could be satisfactorily distributed among the powers peace might follow like the well- being of a man who has dined well."

Or, "England raised up Pitt and Pitt was the father of victory. He organized a second war, a global one. He roused the British people to the highest pitch of patriotism they had ever known and made them--by that time they had repudiated him, which is what happens to British geniuses who win wars--the greatest commercial nation and the greatest colonial power."

DeVoto spends a couple of paragraphs discussing why the Louisiana Purchase was probably illegal. It was *not* that there was no provision in the Constitution to acquire more land, but rather for three other reasons. First, Napoleon did not own Louisiana when he sold it to the United States, because the "Retrocession" from Spain had not yet gone through. Second, he did not consult the Senate and Legislative Assembly of the French Republic, as he was required to do. And last, the Treaty of San Ildefonso, which was instrumental in granting Louisiana to France, also said that Louisiana would revert to Spain if there was any attempt to "cede or alienate it." So Napoleon's mere offer of Louisiana was enough to cause it to revert to Spain. Of course, this is somewhat moot, as Spain (and the Senate and Legislative Assembly) could not enforce any of this.

One problem with reading this is that DeVoto frequently uses out- moded spellings for proper names (for example, "Spanyards"). Admittedly most of this is in direct quotation, but it still brings one up short for an instant. He refers to Meriwether Lewis's dog as "Scammon" where now he is universally called "Seaman". (This probably just means that Lewis had abominable hand-writing which has recently been re-interpreted.)

Someone asked me recently how many films I watch in a year. I get asked this a lot, so I went back over my log for October for a sample for a month. For that month, I saw one film in the theater, thirty-one films on DVD, three television mini-series ("Rome", "The War", and "From the Earth to the Moon"), six feature-length television documentaries or dramas, and six commentaries. The figure for theatrical films is a bit lower than average--I probably see about thirty a year. And for mini- series the figure is probably high. The other figures are probably good averages, so in a year that would be about 375 films on DVD, 75 feature-length television documentaries or dramas, and 75 commentaries. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           A fool without fear is sometimes wiser 
           than an angel with fear.
                                          -- Lady Nancy Astor, 
                                             "My Two Countries"

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