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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/11/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 28, Whole Number 1475
Table of Contents
The Sounds of Science Fiction (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A different sort of trivia quiz is at http://www.shegoddess.com/q/sf/index.aspx. The quiz asks you to identify familiar sounds from science fiction movies. Most of the choices are not too difficult, but it was till fun. [-mrl]
Auto Suggestion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
General Motors reports that in a decade we will have driverless cars. Like in science fiction these cars will drive themselves.
Apparently the large oil companies--who I think are in close cooperation with GM-- are very nearly ready to give their sign-off, so GM intends to go ahead with the development. However, General Motors may be even a little behind the curve on this one. There are, in fact, already driverless cars on the road since the addition of message text messaging and the showing of videos on portable cell phones. Statistics I have made up on the spot show that 8.3% of all cars on the Santa Monica Freeway were controlled by DAVIDs. During times of slow traffic the proportion could soar to as high as 11.5%. In Manhattan the proportion of DAVIDs is expected to be even higher but the statistics are still being produced.
("DAVID" is the safety industry acronym for "Device-Absorbed, Virtually Inattentive Driver", also made up on the spot) [-mrl]
Political Films and the Box-office (part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was talking about the quandary that the film industry is in over films about the current conflicts in the Middle East and western Asia. Several of the films have been released this year, but for the most part they are not doing so well at the box-office. I see several factors causing this. Last week I mentioned the film CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR that tells the story about a man who helped arrange to arm the Afghans and then only lightly suggests that this decision probably had very negative consequences. This film shies away from the implications of its own story. By doing so it probably damages its own credibility. What are some of the other factors hurting political films this season?
The Scheduling of the Films: There is a glut of political films right now. If there were one good film a year on the subject of the troubles of the Middle East, probably a lot of people would be seeing it and discussing its point of view. When there are six or seven films coming out in a matter of a few months they just glut the market. I would not mind at all seeing a thoughtful film on the issues of the Middle East every six months or so. But the feeling is apparently that if a serious film is made, it should be an Oscar contender. If it is an Oscar contender it should be released very late in the year. If all such films are released within a month or so of each other they are going to compete with each other and there will be losers.
The Gravity of the Subject: In a related thought, sadly there is only so much market for intelligent films in general. A lot of people go to the movies to see superheroes, car chases, zombies, princesses with attitude, or Jane Austen adaptations. (Not all in the same film, hopefully.) Movies are for most people a source of entertainment and escapism. Preston Foster in SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS makes a good case for the value of pure escapist entertainment. I am not saying this is a good or a bad thing that a lot of people want fluff, but it is a fact. So the problem may be too high expectations from the filmmakers or it may be the fault of the audience.
Axes to grind: Then there are not that many people who want to go to the movies to see an angry, indignant harangue that what the country is doing is wrong. When people go to a church they can expect to be preached to. Going to the movies, they may be less happy about it. Most people would not volunteer to be subjected to a diatribe even if they agreed with the viewpoint. No matter what side the film is on, it will probably turn off many of the people who disagree with its point of view. There are enough blogs on the Internet where people are giving their political viewpoints and not charging one red cent for it. So there may be a problem in this sort of political film itself.
The Internet: It may be that part of what has changed over the years is that the public has lost its innocence. Most people who have access to the Internet know that there is a huge diversity of political opinion and for every opinion there are may people willing to argue for that point of view. In an environment where opinions are cheaper and more common than a facial tissues, the filmmaker is just one more person expressing his own point of view. He is using a more expensive medium, but that does not mean his opinion is any the more valid that that of another blogger. The fact that Michael Moore can put his ideas on film do not make his opinions and his assertions any more right than those of the guy across the street who is writing his opinions at the computer while sitting around in his pajamas.
The Track Record: A few of these films have had serious problems. I suspect some people saw SYRIANA because it was directed by and starred George Clooney. But when they saw the film they could not make out what the film was all about. I admit I was lost and have not given the film a second chance to lose me. I am not saying that makes it a bad film, but I would be very careful about recommending it to other people because it is so inscrutable. Some may have been convinced that anything about the Middle East will be complex and obscure.
Credibility Gaps: People claim to be aware that a lot of filmmakers badly misrepresent the facts in their films in order to make a particular political case. They say they are not influenced by films. The same claim has been made about advertising, and in fact a great many people are influenced by both. On the whole filmmakers are not a particularly credible lot. And if you reply to a film with facts the filmmaker will not hear you and people nearby will hush you and perhaps have you thrown out of the theater. (I suppose being able to express righteous indignation is one of the nifty perks of being a film reviewer.) Films like APOCALYPTO and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN incredibly distort of history. Generally this is to make a point, but it makes that point by a deception. And many really are misled by the inaccuracies. I have been told many times that people do not go to a film to learn history. But even more frequently I see people repeating misinformation that they have picked up from films.
I guess my suggestion, for the few who will take it, is to not really trust fiction films about politics. You probably will find marginally more accuracy in documentaries, though many of those have distortions. Whom can you trust? Unfortunately in a democracy with free speech you have to just judge as well as you can and read film critics you think you can trust to point out the inaccuracies. [-mrl]
FATAL REVENANT by Stephen R. Donaldson (copyright 2007, Putnam, $27.95, 610pp, ISBN 978-0-399-15446-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I finished FATAL REVENANT, the latest book in "The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" by Stephen R. Donaldson a couple of days before writing this review. I wanted to mull it over for awhile, let it rattle in my head a little bit, just to make sure that how I thought I felt about the book was *really* how I felt about the book. And after all was said and done, my reaction was, "Well, there's a chunk of my reading life I'm never going to get back."
Folks, I'm not the fastest reader--you've probably guessed that over the years. But when it takes me over two months to slog through a single book by an author whose works I've enjoyed in the past in a series that I've been very fond of, well, there's something wrong. The information above states that the book has 610 pages--but twenty of those pages contain a glossary which was necessary to repeated refer to in order to remember and figure out what was going on. Yes, I know, my memory isn't what it used to be, and if I was ten years younger I might be able to remember everything. But between the constant referral to the glossary and the verbose prose that Donaldson is fond of using (another fellow I am on an email list with said something to the effect of "the 'Covenant' series is Donaldson's excuse to use a thesaurus"), this book dragged on and on and on.
Oh, and there were long stretches that I didn't find very interesting. That will make a book drag on as well.
I suppose I should talk about the book, shouldn't I? When last we left our heroine, for lack of a better term, she (Linden Avery, for those of you keeping score) was standing outside Revelstone watching riders approach. Among them were Thomas Covenant--supposedly dead--and her son Jeremiah, who was now lucid. It seems that Covenant is expending a great deal of energy to be here with Jeremiah, who is actually trapped in the clutches of our good friend Lord Foul. Their existence here is precarious--Covenant says that if Linden touches either one of them, they will go back from whence they came. Furthermore, if she uses her Staff of Law to bring forth Earthpower in their vicinity, they will also go back. Covenant is also holding the Arch of Time together while bringing himself and Jeremiah here. But why is he here? Why, to convince Linden to go with him and Jeremiah so that Covenant can destroy Foul and free Jeremiah from Foul's clutches, or some such thing.
Avery still loves Covenant, and of course her son is there, so she agrees to go with Covenant to help him with his plans. She is leery, however; something doesn't seem right about Covenant. But she goes along, and they end up a few thousand years in the past, around the time of Berek Halfhand. Oh yeah, they are accompanied by a guy called the Theomach, one of the race of people called the Insequent. The Insequent are powerful and mysterious people, whose purpose here will most likely be played out in the last two books. We also find out that the Mahdoubt is also an Insequent, and we meet the Harrow, yet another Insequent who wants Linden's Staff and Covenant's ring for his own purposes. We do find out an interesting secret about the Theomach later on in the book--one of the nicer little tidbits that Donaldson leaves us.
I can't really go into too many more details here because I'll be giving away some major plot points, but I can tell you that Linden does get back to the present time after a couple of very interesting encounters, then decides that she needs to get the krill of Loric Vilesilencer in order to be able to wield both Earthpower via the Staff of Law as well as Covenenant's white gold ring. Along the way, she meets just about every one and every thing that she has previously encountered in the previous seven books, as well as a few folks that we've only heard about in passing. In the end, she's trying to free Jeremiah from the clutches of Lord Foul--and she has some other dire purpose we know nothing about.
That brings up another point--Linden is so cocky and self-sure that she cannot possibly believe that what she is planning is even remotely wrong--something that could devastate the Land. It's hard to like Linden--I wanted to strangle her most of this book.
In its own way, the book builds to a sort of climax, where Donaldson leaves us with a very nasty cliffhanger, probably the best surprise of the book. However, the cliffhanger, in my mind, in no way makes up for the rest of the book. Linden is still whiny, the language is way over the top, and a book like this shouldn't be a painful read.
Yes, it's a matter of opinion, and what I dislike other folks may revel in (sorry, I needed to make that little pun). This book was a chore to read, and I'm very disappointed in it. I'll read the last two books in the series, because after eight books I'm not going to stop now. However, what I do need now is a much lighter read. I don't exactly know what will be next, but it can't help but be lighter. [-jak]
A Writer Named Phil Hall (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
As a member of the Online Film Critics Society I have a certain interest in Phil Hall. Phil is the hub from whom all information seems to flow about the OFCS and its activities. He also can be useful as someone who knows the interests of OFCS reviewers and can make the connections between filmmakers and reviewers who might have special interest in their product. I have been seeing his name on the bottom of e-mail but until recently I have known nothing about him. I did not even know what he looked like. He pointed out a short film about him, "A Writer Named Phil Hall", apparently a sort of self-interview made for a site called storytellers.com. It runs something like 24 minutes in length and has just about enough information for him to introduce himself and discuss the his career as a professional writer and a little of his philosophy of writing.
He introduces himself, showing the viewer his published writings including some film books. He also edits two trade magazines with named "Secondary Marketing Executive" and "Alternative Energy Retailer". These are titles that probably sound very sexy to secondary marketing executives and to alternative energy retailers. He also does freelance writing for trade magazines for trades like pleasure boat sales. But it is sort of a "Career Day" discussion of what a professional freelance writer does. He makes the point that any topic a writer chooses--even pleasure boating--can and should be an education for the writer and there can be a great deal of art in a lucid article five paragraphs on the new Evinrude outboard motor. He considers all his writing to be a form of storytelling. Even his film reviews tell the story that he has seen such and such a film. "Did I like it?" he asks rolling his eyes one way. "Did I not like it?" he asks rolling another way. It is telling a story. This sort of parallels my personal philosophy of reviewing is that I am not actually writing about the film at all but about my reaction to the film on one viewing.
In reviewing, Phil's area of concentration is the independent film, a subject he was written a book on. Admittedly because I am more interested in independent film than in pleasure boating, that part his discussion hits on more cylinders for me.
Phil's presentation style is a little precise and formal. The filming style from the unidentified camera operator is much less polished and a little static. The filmmaker, Leszek Drozd, could edit in pictures of the magazines he writes for to have some visual interest. Instead, it is shot as a talking head for 24 minutes. The camera does not move and his head is at the dead center of the frame with a lot of empty yellow wall over his head. More lively than the words he is speaking are his facial expressions. He talks about his experience writing about film. Hall gives the sort of presentation that he might give to the high school class who wants to know what a freelance writer does. The film will be of interest mostly to aspiring writers, to film reviewers in the OFCS, and to secondary marketing executives-- whatever they are.
Dos-a-Dos Bindings (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
As a continuation of comments on dos-a-dos bindings in the 01/04/08 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "With regard to true vs false dos-a-dos bindings: I wouldn't cite Wikipedia as an authority on matters of descriptive bibliography (or anything else!). But if Terry Belanger says that I'm wrong about something bibliographical, then I'm wrong, and there's an end on it." [-fl]
Evelyn adds, "I suspect it may be the case that the meaning of 'dos-a-dos' has expanded over time to include Ace doubles. Meanings change, and with few 'true' dos-a-dos bindings these days, it's easy to believe that the term has found new life in Ace doubles. And didn't Professor Thompson accept that meaning?" [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
KALPA IMPERIAL by Angelica Gorodischer (translated by Ursula K. LeGuin) (ISBN-13 978-1-931-52005-8, ISBN-10 1-931-52005-4) was billed as being in the style of Jorge Luis Borges (as well as that of Italo Calvino and Franz Kafka). While there is some truth to this, it seems far more in the style of LeGuin. That is perhaps partly due to LeGuin's translation, but it is more likely that LeGuin was drawn to the original work because she saw in it something with which she could relate.
One major difference I see is between Gorodischer's writing and Borges's is that Gorodischer's stories have characters--perhaps minimally drawn, but characters nonetheless. Borges's stories frequently have no characters, or only one character. Gorodischer's are mythic at times, but nevertheless interact with each other in at least somewhat realistic ways. On the other hand, Gorodischer's descriptions of *places* (for example, in "Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities") are very Borgesian. Consider the following passage:
"The streets and buildings and balconies and facades are all mixed up together, factories stand next to mansions, shops next to embassies. Very few of its inhabitants know all its streets and ways. I won't go so far as to say it's a labyrinth. [...] The mountains are buried under walls, balconies, terraces, parks; a square slants down, separated from a steep drop by stone arcades; the third floor of his house is the basement of another that fronts on the street above; the west wall of a government building adjoins the ironwork around the courtyard of a school for deaf girls; the cellars of a functionary's grand mansion become the attics of a deserted building, while a cat-flap, crowned with an architrave added two hundred years later, serves as a tunnel into a coalhole, and a shelf has become the transept for a window with golden shields in the panes, and the skylight doesn't open on the sky but on a gallery of waterwheels made of earthenware."
(Sort of a half Borges, half Escher description, don't you think?)
I notice that the blurb on the back cover says that LeGuin has received the PEN/Malamud and World Fantasy Awards, but does not mention her five Hugo Awards or five Nebula Awards. (Those are relegated to the longer biographical paragraph on the final page of the book.)
I got THE QUOTE VERIFIER by Ralph Keyes (ISBN-13 978-0-312-34004- 9, ISBN-10 0-312-34004-4) as a holiday gift, and it is more than just the usual collection of quotations. This is more like the "Snopes" of quotations, tracing the origin of hundreds of famous quotations, and trying to determine whether they were said by (any of) the people credited with them. For example, Harry Truman did not originate either "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (Buck Purcell did), or "The buck stops here" (no, not Buck Purcell, but an anonymous originator). And "It's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall" is an update of the original "like trying to nail currant jelly to the wall," coined by none other than Theodore Roosevelt (describing negotiations with Colombia in 1903). Not surprisingly, Keyes concentrates on quotes that are usually mis-credited, rather than those that really belong to the person most often cited. Those that are correctly attributed are often revisions or alterations of what was actually said. For example, Ivan Boesky said, "Greed is all right.... Greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." This was condensed in the movie WALL STREET to "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." All in all, a fun book, and worth having if you are the sort of person who likes to nit-pick other people's .sig files.
HAUNTED GROUND by Erin Hart (ISBN-13 978-0-743-27210-0, ISBN-10 0-743-27210-2) was chosen by the newly formed afternoon book discussion group at my library. This is a mystery novel involving a skull found in an Irish peat bog, a missing woman and his child, and the murder of the sister of one of the main characters. I have to admit that I had some problems keeping the characters straight because I had no feel for how to pronounce most of the Irish names, and that appears to be how I remember names. (Strangely, I remember books visually, seeing the cover as part of my re-collection.) Anyway, I found this book disconcerting--there was something about it that made me think of it as a science fiction book (which it is not), but the writing style seemed wrong for that. The end was a bit too convenient, and overall I was underwhelmed. Your mileage may vary. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There are people who have an appetite for grief; pleasure is not strong enough and they crave pain. They have mithridatic stomachs which must be fed on poisoned bread, natures so doomed that no prosperity can sooth their ragged and dishevelled desolation. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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