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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/11/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 41, Whole Number 1488
Table of Contents
How Can I Tell? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I found sunflower hulls on the floor in the den that were not there the night before. I told Evelyn, "I can tell you must have been up in the night." "I can't hide anything from you, can I?" she responded. That is the kind of question that worries me. Now how would I ever know? [-mrl]
Films of Dubious Science Fictionness (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
IO9 publishes a list of "15 great movies you didn't know were science fiction": http://tinyurl.com/2u2d3t
Readers might find the article of interest, though in some cases I thought it was obvious the choices were science fiction and in the rest I think the author is on really tenuous ground, such as with BRIMSTONE AND TREACLE. Incidentally, "brimstone and treacle" was considered a healthful tonic back around the time of Dickens. The author of this article seems unaware of that. [-mrl]
Rock Band and Superman (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A couple of items have come up related to recent editorials.
We were talking about ideas recycled from science fiction films, and there was a piece on the BBC about an electronic game called "Guitar Hero" and its successor game called "Rock Band". Apparently, your peripheral device for this game looks like a big rock guitar but it has five buttons instead of strings. They play the rock music and tell you what notes to hit. If you hit the right note fast enough you are rewarded. You are in some sort of electronic screen, I guess, and you appear to yourself to be in stadium and there is an audience of thousands of adoring fans cheering you on to hit all the right buttons. They show you the notes to play and you press the right buttons and your simulated adoring virtual fans go wild.
It is really a variant on a test that I saw done with chickens. A screen tells them which button to peck and they peck it. If they peck correctly they get some dried corn to eat. The chicken gets the real corn, by the way. She can feel it in her beak. She can taste it. She can swallow it. The Rock Band game- player, perhaps not quite as able to martial the same intellect will be happy with a pre-recorded electronic atta-boy from loving fans who do not really exist.
But it struck me that this idea was actually recycled from FAHRENHEIT 451. It is a higher-tech version of the television game that Julie Christie's character Linda played. She sees a play in which a lot of apparently intelligent people are stymied by a simple problem. They give the problem to Linda who solves it in the obvious way. A goggled-eyed electronic character looks straight at Linda and tells her, "Linda, you're absolutely fantastic." That is really what these Rock Band game sounds like, only Rock Band is much jazzier. Bradbury came up with it first.
I assume it also has a setting so that the kids who cannot peck the right keys will still the virtual reward. Flip a switch and even if the kid can't cut the mustard he still gets the reward. This sort of switch is known as a "Kobayashi Maru Workaround".
Also, I was just mentioning Superman in regards to the Ku Klux Klan just as Superman was in the news for another reason.
The courts have awarded the families of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Schuster partial control of the copyright for the Superman character. It was Siegel and Schuster who created the Superman character in the first place.
I suppose I like to see the little guy win over the giant soulless corporation--in this case Time-Warner, who are more giant and in my opinion more soulless than most. But part of me does not feel quite right about the story. After all, Siegel and Schuster have been paid for their creation as a price they accepted. They were paid $130 initially in return for a written agreement assigning the rights to Superman to the publisher. And in 1947 they got an additional payment of $94,000 in return for a signed statement that then DC Comics owned all the rights to Superman.
Now, they were paid the amount they agreed on and later got a bigger payment. As much as I feel for the original creators, even dead as they are, and as little as I think of the Time- Warner Corporation, this seems a little specious to me. If I sell you a colt and you train it to win the Kentucky Derby, do the rights to the horse revert to me? Of course not. Siegel and Schuster have sold all rights to Superman twice. Now the courts have nullified those sales. That hardly seems fair.
What worries me is that I think watching this whole show with wolfish eyes is Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation. In 1867 his economically challenged country sold the United States all of Alaska for a mere $7,200,000. Everybody was satisfied with *that* sale at the time. Alaska turned out to be a very valuable piece of real estate. It was more valuable than either country realized at the time, just like the Superman franchise.
I think now the Siegel's and Schuster's families have gotten Superman's copyrights back, how long before Vladimir Putin asks for his country's rights to Alaska back?
P. S. I was discussing the legal aspects of the decision to take court decision to take the copyright rights to Superman away from Time-Warner and to give them back to the families of Siegel and Schuster. This site tries to explain them and their effects:
It still seems like a miscarriage of justice. It is like giving the rights to a cake back to the original wheat farmer. [-mrl]
The Black Legion and the Ku Klux Klan (letter of comment by David Gorecki):
In response to Mark's article on the Ku Klux Klan in the movies in the 04/04/08 issue of the MT VOID, David Gorecki writes, "Fascinating article on Superman vs. the KKK ... but to clarify one point: there actually was a Black Legion centered in the Midwest (chiefly Michigan/Ohio) which had connections to the Klan. It collapsed in 1936 after the murder of Charles Poole, a WPA administrator. It was the light thrown on the murder investigation that resulted in both the Bogart film (Warners was always looking for plots straight from the headlines) as well as an episode of 'The Shadow' with Orson Welles, titled 'The White Legion'. This show mixed some of the characteristics of the KKK and Black Legion. It's interesting that these organizations were treated 'hands off' by the mainstream media, yet ended up the subject of children's radio shows! [-dg]
Mark responds, "I stand corrected. Wikipedia claims that the Black Legion was actually a part of the Klan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Legion(murder_cult)" [-mrl]
The Ku Klux Klan and Shakespeare (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 04/04/08 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
There are a couple quick things in your latest VOID to get the ball rolling this morning. First, your article about the KKK and Hollywood was interesting. I remember how the KKK was depicted in THE BIRTH OF A NATION--which I saw in college--and vaguely recall it as a "positive" portrayal. That Griffith realized the error of his attitude shortly thereafter is a good thing, and so he produced INTOLERANCE, another great film. It is interesting to note that one of cinema's greatest innovators had such a mindset and that it was revealed through his films. I still admire D. W. Griffith's work; his place in the pantheon of Hollywood film makers is well-secured, IMHO.
You are right, too, that there really aren't many films about the KKK. Google searching sure didn't bring many results. It must still be a relatively touchy subject, even with the KKK's influence greatly reduced nowadays. There are still too many people in this country--sad to say--who cling to such an out- dated and destructive mindset. People being people, prejudice will never completely go away. *sigh* We can still try, though, to educate folks through the power of the media. After all, that was one of the visions of Gene Roddenberry.
The other thing that struck me was your section titled "Fodor's Hamlet". When I first saw that my brain read it as "Frodo's Hamlet", which brought really strange permutations of the play to mind. Just let that sink in and try to envision it... Scary, ain't it?
Shakespeare's works--since I am on the subject and you brought it up in this Hamlet bit--in the hands of theater and film directors are always being updated into new and different settings. Witness the 2000 version of Hamlet set in New York City, where the CEO of Denmark Corporation has mysteriously died and his son comes back from school in Europe for the funeral, then tries to figure out what in the heck has happened. It was a very effective and different version.
Also, way back in 1970, my St. Louis Park, Minn., high school English class went to the Guthrie Theater's version of JULIUS CAESAR, which artistic directed Michael Langham had plunked down in 1930's South America, dressing the actors in fatigues, carried machine guns and swords, and basically clothed the play in the guise of a military coup (which, in fact, the play is) of a corrupt government. I didn't care for it, but understood the whys and wherefores of Langham's decisions.
Should I even mention the summer, 2007 production of MACBETH by the Washington Shakespeare Company that was performed completely in the nude? That's one way, I guess, to explore the concept of naked power. "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" indeed...
You get the idea. There are dozens--probably hundreds--of updated versions of Shakespeare's plays that have been staged and/or filmed over the years. They certainly show the relevance of these 400+ year old works to our modern world. They always will.
And that should do it for today. Thanks for the zine, Mark. Have a merry one. [-jp]
D. W. Griffith did make some great contributions to the American film. It is a pity that he will be best remembered for his racism.
And it is surprising how the film industry avoided looking like it was taking up Jewish issues. I just recently saw THEY WON'T FORGET (1937), one of two films that were made about the Mary Phagan 1913 murder case. Historically the case showed how virulent the anti-Jewish hatred was in the South a century ago. Leo Frank was accused of the murder and tried. Frank was railroaded to a guilty verdict on no real evidence mostly because he was Jewish and a northerner. It caused a national uproar. The governor commuted his death sentence, but shortly thereafter he was lynched by a mob. It has been made into two different films (the other as a made for TV film in 1988) and neither even mention that Frank was Jewish, which was the reason for a great deal of the hatred toward Frank. In 1982 a reluctant eyewitness finally vindicated Frank.
As for FRODO'S HAMLET, I think you may be thinking of HOBBET, PRINCE OF BAG END. That is not be confused with MACBILBO. "Is this a ring I see before me, its hole toward my finger?" "Gandalf should have died hereafter. But he'll be back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. We'll creep our petty pace from here to Mordor."
I did see the 2000 HAMLET, but barely remember it. As for the naked Hamlet, was it done in modern undress or was it nudity authentic to the period? [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Well, book sale season is upon us. At least this year, the three major spring sales that I go to were more spread out in time. JR Trading had their spring warehouse sale March 8 and 9. Bryn Mawr had their sale March 26 to 30. and the East Brunswick Public Library had theirs March 31 to April 5.
First, I want to make some general comments on the changing nature of "Friend of the Library" (FotL) book sales (which also apply to other fund-raising sales such as the Bryn Mawr sale).
For example, many FotL sales now ban scanners. While some people seem to think the laser scanner is a liability issue, I tend to believe the people on the FotL boards who say that it is not that, and it is also not just the fact that "normal" patrons were upset that the dealers would grab huge quantities of books and then sit and scan them to see which were valuable. It's that after the dealers scanned the huge stacks of books they had taken, they would leave their rejects in a heap, and it would take the volunteers hours to re-sort them. And sometimes they would just commandeer some stretch of table space and inconvenience everyone else in the process as well.
Checking the book sales web site, I see many have also ended the preview sales as well. There has definitely been a conflict between dealers and "readers", with the latter increasingly annoyed over "preview" sessions in which dealers get a chance to cherry-pick the books. Oh, there was an admission charge for this, but what is $5 or $10 to a dealer who buys a few hundred dollars worth of books that they re-sell for five or ten times that much? On the other hand, it is a fair amount to people who want to buy a few books for themselves. In fact, the Bryn Mawr sale is so popular that while they still have preview admission, it is by lottery--they have decided either that there were too many dealers in any case, or that they were losing customers from the bulk of the sale because people felt the best items had been grabbed up already. But many FoTL sales found out that many people had stopped coming because the books were picked over. So they dumped the preview sale entirely, advertised this fact (most say "*not* picked over" in bold letters on their web sites), and discovered that they made *more* money this way.
This is also the reason for the higher prices ($1 for mass market paperbacks, rather than 50 cents, for example). Dealers can still get piles of books cheap, at least at the sales that have "Box and Bag Day" (though see the next paragraph!). But the sales have a chance to sell some of these at a better price to people who are more selective and not looking for stock to list for $.01 on amazon.com. (On the other hand, I find that the East Brunswick FotL pricing of *ex-library* mass market paperbacks at $1 is off-putting.)
Many sales have also either discontinued "Box and Bag Day" on the last day or put a size limit on the boxes and bags. I was talking about this to another patron at the Bryn Mawr sale and he said he had been there one year when someone had shown up with a *refrigerator* box on a dolly, which he filled for $5! The East Brunswick FotL does not have a "Box and Bag Day"; instead, non- profit organizations can make arrangements ahead of time to come after the sale closes and take what they want for free. (A friend says that she was at one sale where arrangements had been made to send large amounts of what was left to a prison library.)
Anyway, on to the particulars.
JR Trading Company is a remainder wholesaler that has sales to the general public a couple of weekends a year, one in the spring and one before the winter holidays. Prices have been steady the last few years: trade paperbacks $4 each (3 for $10) and hardbacks $5 each (5 for $20), audiobooks $2 each (3 for $5). (Children's books are cheaper; hardbacks originally priced over $30 are higher.) Our total here was 17 books and 6 audiobooks for $69 plus tax.
The paperback pricing doesn't seem to take into account how pricey some paperbacks have become. For example, we got the 2007 "Time Out" FILM GUIDE, a book the size of the Manhattan telephone book and originally priced at $34.95, for just $3.33--less than a tenth of the cover price. We also got a book on iPods and iTunes for the same price, which was very timely: Mark had gotten an iPod less than twenty-four hours earlier.
As an example of the surprising books one may find at JR, there was a half a pallet of Umberto Eco's TRAVELS IN HYPERREALITY. If I did not already have a copy, I would have jumped at it. I did jump at the Small Beer Press edition of Howard Waldrop's HOWARD WHO?, because the only copy I had was a first edition (fairly valuable even though it is an ex-library copy), and I wanted a reading copy. I also grabbed a copy of Paul Di Filippo's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: TIME'S BLACK LAGOON, a book for which I had been searching for a while.
Mark noted one common type book this time seemed to be "The Year's Best X Writing", where X was "Science and Nature", "Sports", "Spiritual", "Travel", "Non-Required" (whatever that means), and so on, for the past several years. (We got some of these.) Another was Tolkien, with several editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, as well as other books by the Tolkiens pere et fil, and books *about* Tolkien's writings. I didn't get any of these, but did get a book on the philosophy of Narnia. We also got another book on Jack Parsons. (I had reviewed STRANGE ANGEL: THE OTHERWORLDLY LIFE OF ROCKET SCIENTIST JOHN WHITESIDE PARSONS by George Pendle in the 09/08/06 issue of the MT VOID.)
Given how I love annotated books and Tom Stoppard, I could not pass up a "critical guide" to Tom Stoppard that is really more a set of annotations for four of Stoppard's plays. I got a collection of Cynthia Ozick's essays. The audiobooks were all abridged versions on cassettes, but I did get Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY (5.5 hours), Twain's LETTERS FROM THE EARTH (6 hours), and Christie's THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES (3 hours).
Next up was the Bryn Mawr book sale. Last year I bemoaned the fact that the paperback prices had risen to $1. This year they kept that, but also priced almost all trade paperbacks and hardbacks at $2 (as opposed to the individual pricing of previous years). This "unit pricing" makes their setting up the sale a lot faster, and avoids extra writing in books.
We ended up with seventeen books for $34. I got a Cruden's CONCORDANCE to replace my Strong's CONCORDANCE. It was not that Cruden's is better, but it was about one tenth the size. This turned out to be because it was also missing a lot of what Strong's had--for example the Greek and Hebrew words. Oh, well, maybe I'll just keep the Strong's after all.
We picked up another copy of Healy & McComas's ADVENTURES IN TIME & SPACE, and one of Groff Conklin's GREAT STORIES OF SPACE TRAVEL, because one can never have too many copies of Conklins or Healy & McComases. I found a book of Franz Kafka's letters, and a book of essays about Mark Twain (as well as the Norton edition of PUDD'NHEAD WILSON). In keeping with my mixed background, I got an Isabel Allende novel in Spanish, and WOMEN OF THE WORD, a book about Jewish women's writings. And so on.
The last of the season was the East Brunswick FotL sale. This was very disappointing. First of all, the mall has cut back on the space the sale can use by insisting that there be a wide walkway right through the center of the area. This seems to have cut down the number of tables by about a third. The result is a lot more boxes of books under the table at the start of the sale- -and less room in the aisles for those trying to go through the boxes. Next, there was a lot of science fiction, but at least 90% of the paperbacks were "Star Trek" novels. So even if one could manage to go through the under-the-table boxes, it was hardly worth it (unless of course, you were looking for "Star Trek" novels). (I would suggest that any book sale that has this high a percentage of "Star Trek" novels might want to make a separate "Star Trek" section.) In any case, the cramped conditions, the enormous domination of "Star Trek" in their science fiction section, and the higher pricing make me really ambivalent about returning to this next year.
We did find nine books and a DVD for $26, but for once Mark found more than I did. He got four books (including an almanac of the Old West and a book on the Plague) and a DVD (LORD OF WAR), while I got three (Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, James Patrick Kelly and John kessel's FEELING VERY STRANGE, and Sarah MacDonald's HOLY COW). We also got a facsimile edition of the July 1939 issue of "Astounding" (from Southern Illinois University Press). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: It must be admitted that there are some parts of the soul which we must entirely paralyze before we can live happily in this world. -- Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort
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