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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/21/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 38, Whole Number 1485
Table of Contents
Verbing Nouns (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Why is it that we can talk about "halving" something or even "quartering" it, but not "thirding" it or "eighthing" it? [-ecl]
My Favorite... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
At a used book store I stopped to take a look at the book MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMAN ARE FROM VENUS. The book is about all sorts of relationship problems that seem to be part of other people's relationships that I have never had to face. All I can say is, "Thank God Evelyn is a Martian." [-mrl]
My Arthur C. Clarke Memory (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There are probably few readers of this notice who do not know that Sir Arthur C. Clarke died in Sri Lanka two days ago. I have seen Heinlein die and Asimov die. Clarke was the last of the three writers I grew up thinking of as the giants. But I felt I had a special connection to Clarke.
I was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts back in the spring of 1970. Evelyn and I were members of the UMass Science Fiction Club. In fact, our second date was to see the film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, so the film holds very fond memories for us. In any case, this was a few months later and the Science Fiction Club got an invitation from the school's Distinguished Visitors Program. It seems that they were going to have Arthur C. Clarke visit the campus and give a speech at the Student Union. Beforehand that there was be a dinner for him. We were asked would the club like to send some people to the dinner they asked? Evelyn and I were among a group of five chosen to attend the dinner.
At the dinner Clarke was polite and cordial, but perhaps not greatly enthusiastic as he talked mostly about science and about diving. He produced two coins he had found on the sea floor when he dived. None of us from the science fiction club were doing much to enter into the conversation. Eventually I decided that it would be a missed opportunity if I did not bring up the subject of science fiction at least temporarily. So I asked about his science fiction; I do not remember exactly what. And it was a lot like the sun had came out from behind a rain cloud. Suddenly the conversation had drifted to what clearly was his favorite subject. His talking speeded up and became much more animated. He talked about how Isaac Asimov had said he would not be writing any more science fiction because he did find that it was worthwhile. He said that he, on the other hand, found nothing but science fiction worthwhile writing about. It was pretty much a three-way conversation with him, Evelyn, and me. And that seemed to be just how everybody in the room liked it, especially Clarke himself. It was great in spite of the fact that I could not make my mouth say "CHILDHOOD'S END". I two or three times said, "CHILDSHOOD END." Clarke pretended not to notice.
When the dinner was over the organizer asked if I would be willing to keep Dr. Clarke company in the preparation room while he awaited the time of his speech. There are occasions when the word "yes", while it conveys the idea, still seems somehow insufficient. However, it was the word I used. We had a good conversation in the small room with just the two of us waiting for him to be called to the stage. In fact it is probably the best conversation I think I have ever had with any well-known science fiction writer. I wish I could remember what all we talked about.
When Clarke gave his speech I had a seat behind him on the dais. I think we still have the front page of the University of Massachusetts the next day that had a picture of him giving the speech with me in the background. But even then it was not over. The University was to drive Dr. Clarke to an interview at a local radio station and then to the airport. Again there was the question of who could keep him company that he could talk to. And Evelyn and I could talk about science fiction. It was the first, last, and only time that I ever skipped a scheduled class in college. (It was my favorite class, too. It was a problem solving colloquium that was a preparation for the Putnam Mathematics Exam. I got the professor's permission.) Clarke and I talked about science fiction films. I remember I had not long before seen QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and loved that film. I mentioned it to Clarke and he said he had never heard of it. I still find that strange because he was English and it seems strange that an English science fiction fan would not know Quatermass. Quatermass has considerably more name recognition in England than it did in the United States. The original 1950s broadcasts became real media events. Eventually it had to end and the four of us--Evelyn, me, Clarke, and the driver--went to Bradley Field Airport for Clarke's plane.
Clarke was the real thing. He was a scientist and a science fiction writer. The synchronous satellite was his idea, so he changed the world. His interest in science fiction lasted him his entire life. He became the "Grand Old Man of Science Fiction" by outliving both Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov by 20 and 16 years respectively. He had been the foundation of my most optimistic views of the future with novels like ISLANDS IN THE SKY, AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT, EARTHLIGHT, THE DEEP RANGE, A FALL OF MOONDUST (a personal favorite), and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA. These are probably what I consider his first-rank novels. Of them only RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA was published after I met him. But he was always a class act.
So what did I learn from Clarke? At the dinner Clarke had produced some coins he had found skindiving on the sea floor. And he was showing them to others. The real joy was finding the coins, but it was not enough to just find them, he got the additional pleasure of sharing his exciting find with others. He was a man who spent his life chasing wonder, finding it, and then showing it to others so they could appreciate it--not appreciate it at the same level he could, but there was enough spark there to share. The pursuit of wonder may not seem to have that much useful value. Our society values the practical and the short-term gain. This was a man who knew the value of wonder.
I think that when we lost Clarke we lost one of the great ones. [-mrl]
Hugo Award Nominees:
Best Short Story
Best Related Book
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Best Professional Editor, Short Form
Best Professional Editor, Long Form
Best Professional Artist
Best Fan Writer
Best Fan Artist
John W. Campbell Award
An award for the best new writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appeared during 2006 or 2007 in a professional publication. Sponsored by Dell Magazines.
AMERICAN ZOMBIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This film is badly paced, but has a rewarding last half- hour if the viewer can wait it out. Grace Lee (THE GRACE LEE PROJECT) looks at the lives of zombies living in the Los Angeles area, examining them like any minority community. The film satirizes well-intentioned socially conscious documentaries, examining how zombies have been (or failed to be) integrated into the general population. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
A spoiler comment follows the main review.
In 2005 Grace Lee made a documentary supposedly about the high expectation people had of her because of her name and her Asian family background. In fact the film was more about the difficulties that Asians have assimilating into American culture. Ms. Lee has returned to the problems of the outsider in our society looking at the (hopefully!) fictional community of the Living Dead (of the George Romero variety) who are living among us. As long as the film sticks with that conceit, it has more misses than hits. The zombies have Zombie Pride parades chanting "We're here. We're dead. Get used to it. We're here. We're dead. Get used to it."
Lee is satirizing boring documentaries by exposing us to an hour of tedious documentary. We revisit repeatedly four particular zombies and discover they are mundanely like the supposedly living people we probably know. Judy is a customer service representative. Joel is a political activist and the founder of ZAG, the Zombie Advocacy Group. Lisa is a florist who hopes being in the documentary will help her find out who she was before she died and lost her memory. Ivan clerks in a convenience store. These people are tediously profiled and have little difference from your neighbors. The Dead are the new minority and can be only partially protected by the law.
We see a zombie sweat shop where the Asian owner exploits the zombies who are willing to work longer hours. In fact they work a 24/7 shift. That makes them for their employer preferable even to hiring Mexicans. Christian missionaries feel a special duty to recruit zombies. After all, didn't Jesus return from the dead?
The film finally gets moving a little when the constantly bickering documentary makers take their cameras to a zombies-only outdoor retreat/festival, LIVE DEAD. It is here that zombies can enjoy each other's presence. They drop their affected normality and become themselves. They can sing zombie filk songs, bay at the moon, and do other traditional zombie activities. Just how traditional is what the documentary-makers want to find out. The film picks up markedly when zombies can be candid and be themselves.
Grace Lee wants to take a serious look at what would happen if there really were zombies "living" (if that is the word) among us. Unfortunately, she has a hard time being serious and her idea of society is heavily influenced by what she sees in Los Angeles. If the reader wants a serious look at the affects on society of the dead returning, a better effort was directed by Robin Campillo in the French film LES REVENANTS (a.k.a. THEY CAME BACK).
AMERCIAN ZOMBIE's most interesting touch is an implicit and
subversive anti-assimilation message. Some of the film works.
Sadly too much does not. This one is a patience tester. But
have faith. The film gets better as it goes along. I rate it a
0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. Right now AMERICAN ZOMBIE is
playing mostly at film festivals. If one wants to see it, the
general release is probably months away. News and information on
the film can be found at
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0765430/
Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... AMERICAN ZOMBIE has some of the same strengths (or perhaps weaknesss) as Tod Browning's 1932 film FREAKS. That fictional film followed a community of carnival freaks, showing that they were really very normal in spite of their various birth defects. The last minutes of that film totally reversed all we had seen to that point and, indeed, made the deformed characters into monsters with horrifying mystical powers. [-mrl]
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Evelyn's comments on SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN in the 03/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
As it happens, this was the selection of "Brookline Reads" (an annual town wide project by the library that I'm involved with) a few years ago and so I've read it. I think Evelyn's objection to "italicized" is correct, but nitpicky. Clearly it was a word chosen for the western reader, not accuracy. (But then I remain in awe of Evelyn's calculation of when Chanukah would fall several hundred years from now for an episode of "Babylon 5.")
As for it being anti-intellectual, I have to disagree. The book was reflecting the narrow and constricted lives of the women in 19th century China. We're not meant to endorse feeling over thinking in dealing with facts. We're meant to note that for the women, they have no other choice, since no one takes their lives and histories seriously enough to study them.
It was not a book I would have picked up on my own, but I was glad to have read it. It took me into a world as alien as anything I've read in science fiction. :-) [-dk]
MP3 Players (letter of comment by Charles Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on MP3 players in the 03/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris asks, "What's the make and model of your Mippps? Where'd you get it? How much did it cost? How can I identify similar players?" [-csh]
Evelyn responds, "It is a Sakar 48091 Digital Music Player. It cost $19.95 at Wal-Mart. It is about three inches long and a half inch wide. I think one can identify similar players by the fact that they are about $20 each. :-)" [-ecl]
Literature of Discontent, iPods, and Frankenstein (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 03/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Your commentary about “Science Fiction as a Literature of Discontent” rings very true in many places. For one, I have to agree that most SF fans don’t fit into the “normal looking” range, meaning clean-shaven, in decent physical condition, and dress well. Yes, I would have to agree that fans tend to follow their own drummer, especially if that drummer is setting a good beat. (Think Yardbirds’ version of “Train Kept a-Rollin’” here.) And I also agree that most fans are higher in intellect than your average K-Mart shopper. Over the years, I have always enjoyed the camaraderie of fans, finding them excellent conversationalists who are quite knowledgeable about a wealth of subjects.
Maybe we do like SF as a vision of the “could be” future that we mere humans might attain if we try hard enough. Technically, this can be seen as a means of fighting the Powers That Be in order to achieve The Greater Good. Like you said, the popularity of SF may lie in that peaceful oblivion that reading can provide. Of course, good fiction can also make you think, besides being entertainment. Many is the time my mind has been blown away by concepts I can’t wrap my brain around, but the writer has described beautifully. Speaking for myself, I love to be entertained, but I also like to have my thinking challenged. Perhaps that is one major reason why science fiction is popular: it challenges us. And discontent does that, too, I guess, which can lead me further astray from what I’m saying here: Good fiction of any kind entertains and challenges the reader. ‘Nuff said.
My son--age 12 and counting--is desiring an iPod much along the lines of what Mark has. If I can get one for him--or, preferably, if he saves up his lawn-mowing and chore money--he can get one for himself at either Wal-Mart or Target for less than $50 now. They do go on sale, you know, and the march of progress (and miniaturization) never ceases to amaze me.
One comment about FRANKENSTEIN: A CULTURAL HISTORY is actually quite true; I do believe that Mary Shelley is much more culturally remembered today than her husband and the others in that little group. This book sounds like a lot fun to read. Thanks for the review; I will have to check it out of the Texas A&M University circulating library. So let me thank you for the zinewsletter again. Timely as always, and enjoyed. Take care, and I look forward to your next effort. [-jp]
I find that fans talk about ideas. They say "Small minds talk about people. Average minds talk about things. Great minds talk about ideas." So I take some pride in that. I didn't know if people would take offense at the comments. I also tell myself that if Albert Einstein walked into the hotel lobby when there was a science fiction convention going on, just from the way he dressed and the way he comported himself I think people would peg him as a science fiction fan.
I am not sure that the futures we see in science fiction are generally positive futures. In fact I cannot think of too many positive views of the future. But perhaps we are like the woman in the musical "Candide" who says she is homesick for any place but here. Most of what we see in the world around us is about now and we want to vary a steady diet of now with some bits of another time and place.
Evelyn's pseudo-iPod cost only about $20. But it does not have much capacity. I am still trying to figure mine out as well as the iTunes software. Speaking of fannish interest in ideas, the first thing I loaded on mine was a whole raft of TED talks, about five gigabytes of them, which are free on iTunes. (I mentioned TED talks in the VOID in November http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4824/2007/VOID1123.htm#ted.) [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I looked at EAT THIS, NOT THIS: THOUSANDS OF SIMPLE FOOD SWAPS THAT CAN SAVE YOU 10, 20, 30 POUNDS-OR MORE! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding (ISBN-13 978-1-594-86854-2, ISBN-10 1-594-86854-9) in the store. It will supposedly help you pick less fattening foods in restaurants, the supermarket, and so on. But the problem is that all too many of their examples are obvious, and not helpful. For example, at Outback Steakhouse the "good" meal they show is prime rib, and the "bad" meal is a strip steak. But the "good" meal had green beans and a sweet potato as the sides, while the "bad" meal has sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato *loaded* (with butter, sour cream, and bacon). Well, duh! What would be useful is a comparison of just the prime rib to just the steak. (The answer is that the prime rib is 480 calories, with 38 grams of fat, while the strip steak is 900 calories, with 60 grams of fat. This is almost entirely due to the fact that the prime rib is 8 ounces, while the steak is 14 ounces. In fact, the steak has less fat per ounce; the problem is that it is almost twice as large.) It also suggests not ordering spicy tuna roll in a Japanese restaurant, because the filling has mayonnaise. Seriously, now, how much actual mayonnaise is there in a spicy tuna roll? With large, flashy pictures, the pages have space for only a few items per restaurant. You'd be better off getting the restaurants' nutritional information charts and reading those. This strikes me as a possibly interesting book to flip through, but not to buy.
(I am reminded of Morgan Spurlock, the maker of SUPER SIZE ME, who gained so much weight by eating only at McDonalds. The fact that he had non-diet sodas at every meal may have contributed to this more than he acknowledged, as well as his policy of always accepting the super-sizing option. Yes, if you eat as stupidly as possible, you will gain weight.)
THE OLD MAN IN THE CORNER by Baroness Orczy (ISBN-13 978-0-486-44048-4, ISBN-10 0-486-44048-6) is a collection of twelve of the stories of the man in the corner (the "old" was added for American publication). Several of these were dramatized on the BBC (radio) as "The Teahouse Detective". They definitely lend themselves to easy dramatization, since they are simply dialogues between the man in the corner, and a woman journalist, in which the MitC solves mysterious crimes by cogitation alone. In this regard he is a precursor of Hercule Poirot and his "little grey cells," except that Poirot actually does go out and talk to people as part of his detection. (In fairness, occasionally the MitC recounts what he saw and heard in court or elsewhere.) Baroness Orczy ran into the same problem Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did--she wrote a story which theoretically would end the career of the MitC, but popular demand was such that she had to bring him back. Apparently her approach was to just ignore that terminal story and pretend it had never been written. The Man in the Corner is as classic an early detective as Jacques Futrelle's "Thinking Machine", and I recommend any stories of either of them.
SIDE EFFECTS by Woody Allen (ISBN-13 978-0-345-34335-2, ISBN-10 0-345-34335-2) was this month's discussion group pick. At first it seemed like a tough book to review, or discuss, because the first few pieces were primarily one-liners strung together. They were supposedly "stories", but had very little plot or characterization. In his movies, Allen manages to have a plot, because he does not have the other actors delivering the jokes-- he saves those for himself. So these were like taking a movie and removing everyone except Allen from them. Even one short story at a time could be too much of a good thing.
But then some of the later pieces were stories, and fairly interesting ones, though often for strange reasons. For example, "The Kugelmass Episode" could very well have been the inspiration for Jasper Fforde's THE EYRE AFFAIR: in both, characters use a machine to propel themselves into the world of a classic novel. (It was a jolt, however, to realize that when Emma Bovary says to Kugelmass, "Tell me again about O. J. Simpson," she means as a football player and actor--the book was published in 1979.) "The Diet" is a parody of Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL. So while some pieces are fairly non-descript, there is also some content here.
FROM TOKYO TO JERUSALEM by Abraham Kotsuji (no ISBN, amazon.com ASIN B000J0SFXU) is the autobiography of a descendent of generations of Shinto priests who eventually converted to Judaism (with an intermediate period as a Presbyterian minister!). Written in 1964, it is a fairly simple book, covering the basics of Kotsuji's childhood (much of which he tells in the third person before switching to the more standard first person when he progresses past primary school). His discovery of Judaism came when he found a Bible in an old bookstore. Although he found the Old Testament much more "attractive", his options in Japan were pretty much restricted by the fact that in the 1920s there were many more Christians (and Christian missionaries) than Jews. So in spite of his reservations, he converted to Christianity, went to a Christian college, and eventually became a minister. But he always felt more connected to the Old Testament, and as he had more and more contact with Jewish refugees during the war, he came to the conclusion that these were his people, and eventually converted.
And while the book is good as Kotsuji's own record of his life, he did not check all the statements about things he has only heard second-hand. For example, he talks about Jews getting visas in Kovna (Kaunas), Lithuania, from the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, and then says that Sugihara had been killed by the Nazis. Actually, Sugihara returned to Japan in disgrace for having violated his orders, ended up as a light bulb salesman, and was still alive when Kotsuji was writing this book. (In fact, he was invited to Israel in 1965 and lived until 1986.) Ironically, a few pages later Kotsuji says that one of the refugees who wrote an autobiography said that Kotsuji had been killed during the war by the Japanese secret service! [-ecl]
[It should be noted that Baroness Orczy is better known for another series. Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josepha Barbara Orczy is the creator of that swashbuckling hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel. It also is quite likely that her detective who solves crimes from the comfort of a teahouse was the inspiration for Nero Wolfe.
It is a little unfair to say that Woody Allen saves all the jokes for himself in films. In his comedies he frequently wrote some very funny lines for other characters also. He does keep the lion's share for himself, however. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A fool and his words are soon parted. -- William Shenstone
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