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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/30/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 48, Whole Number 1495
Table of Contents
Robert Asprin Obituary (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Robert Asprin died suddenly in his home on May 22 at the age of 62. He was the creator and author of the "Myth-Adventure" series and the "Phule's Regiment" series, and also the co-creator and author of the "Thieves' World" series (with Lynn Abbey). Asprin was also the founder of the Dark Horde, the predecessor of the Dorsai Irregulars.
Asprin was scheduled to be the Guest of Honor at Marcon 42, beginning the next day. [-ecl]
Flying Over Mars (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is pretty exciting for me. Does this count as a science fiction movie?
The Great Crossover (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A computer science teacher was asked when he thought that computer intelligence would be in the range of human intelligence. His response was simply that considering his students, it would be much sooner than you would imagine. You know, I can take that two ways. [-mrl]
The United States' Best Kept Travel Secret (part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think the problem is that the area does not have a name--no real name that is commonly accepted. I call it "Southern Utah." Maybe if I want to go to the trouble I can call it "the canyon country of southern Utah." Even when I call it that maybe I get a sort of a shrug from most people. I guess most people would suspect that there are canyons in southern Utah. But it is like saying I am going to see the cactus of southern Utah. It does not sound like much. I get a shrug or a nod and a half smile. The closest to an impressive name is "Utah Canyon Country." But there is a California Canyon Country, so it sounds like an also- ran. This part of the United States had probably the most spectacular scenery in the United States and almost nobody seems to know it is there.
Not having a name makes a difference. The Canadian Rockies have a name. If you say "Canadian Rockies" people know what you are talking about. They see Nelson Eddie and Jeanette McDonald against a background of majestic mountains, clear lakes, and evergreen forests. If I say "southern Rockies" you picture just a drier and sandier version of the above. I have been told that Alaska is impressive, but I still prefer Utah. In Alaska we saw glaciers of blue ice leading into icy bays. Very nice. Then I had to say something like "it is not as nice as southern Utah." And the reaction was what I expected. Southern Utah? What is he talking about? I tell you if someone took Australia's great geological wonder, Ayres Rock, and airlifted it to Capitol Reef in southern Utah people passing it on the road would at best give it a quick glance and move on to the next wonder. I have been to over forty countries and the most impressive scenery I have seen anywhere is in the National Parks of southern Utah. I don't care if (almost) nobody knows it.
My mother is not an easy woman to impress. But she lives in Scottsdale, a day's drive from Utah Canyon country. I knew about Canyon country and suggested that we show it to her. I thought at worst it would be nice to spend a week with her going to the National Parks of southern Utah. But we wanted to see Canyon Country again and this would be an opportunity to spend time with my mom. We would drive out from Scottsdale on Sunday, see a park each day, Monday to Friday, and drive home on Saturday. Mom later said she was expecting something like Yosemite with pleasant views of mountains. Utah is actually very different from Yosemite. This *did* impress her.
On the way we passed some interesting rock formations. I told her that I hope that at the end of this trip she will be so jaded that those formations will be boring. But I was a little worried I was overselling Canyon Country.
Approaching Zion National Park you don't see anything of interest. Zion is a canyon and hence below ground. So it looks like uninteresting topography. Then you see a crack in the ground and as you drive into it you see interesting mounds, peaks of rock, and we were enjoying those. You drive through a tunnel a bit longer than a mile. When you come out you feel like you have been shrunken. You are driving through a canyon. Imagine if you will a boulder big enough to contain the Empire State Building. In fact you could align the building top to bottom, side to side, or front to back. That is one heck of a boulder. How could such a big boulder get there? Well, it fell off the rock face behind it three times as high. The sides of the canyon vary in height but go up to about three-quarters of a mile. That is a heck of a lot of rock. So the question is less there did the boulder come from but what kind of a noise did it make when it fell. This road will give you some idea what it is like to travel in Zion:
The Grand Canyon--much more well-known--might be as impressive, but I have never gone very deeply into it. Canyons are more impressive looking from the base. At the canyon of Zion you go right to the base. My mother said she did not know there was topography like this anywhere in the United States. Are all the parks we are going to like this one, she asked? No, they are all different. It is not a long drive from Zion to Bryce, but the conditions are just a little different there. We spent Monday at Zion feeling very small next to the rock behemoths. You can look at the huge rock formations and feel you have the measure of their size. Then you seem a tiny camper driving along a road beside one and realize that you had the scale all wrong.
Next week I will continue raving about the other parks. [-mrl]
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Indiana Jones is back and looking for the secrets of a lost civilization in Central or South America (and the script seems not sure what the difference is). This film is a compendium of geographic misinformation as well as solid collection of action sequences. Rather than being an adventure centered on religious folklore, this time Indy is involved with aliens and New Age ideas. As expected the thrills just keep coming, but like its hero the action is getting a little old and little stiff. Steven Spielberg directs. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Spoiler warning: This review has some spoilers of minor details in the film.
The Lost Race story, popular in the late 1800s, is not dead. Nor is Indiana Jones, popular in the 1980s. After nineteen years in both real time and story time, Professor Jones (Harrison Ford, of course) has been forced into a new adventure in the world of 1957. There is no way to make this a prequel the way TEMPLE OF DOOM was. Harrison Ford is 65 years old and looks it. Indiana Jones still does some marvelous physical feats, but you rarely see Indy's face when he is doing them. His stunt double is getting lots of work. Karen Allen is back as Marion Ravenwood and is well preserved enough to still be attractive. But many of Indiana's stunts have been handed off to new character Mutt Williams (played by Shia LaBeouf). Mutt is adventuresome himself and could himself almost be called a young Indiana Jones.
At the film begins Stalinist thugs have kidnapped Indiana in the hopes of finding a valuable thingee that has something to do with psychic power. The Nazis have been dispatched by history so Stalin is the power behind the new villains. It seems that Stalin is as superstitious as Hitler was, though come to think of it, in the world of Indiana Jones, Hitler was right to believe in the Ark and the Grail. The chase for the valuable thingee will take Indiana and his party once more into tombs and temples with booby traps. One major difference is that the three previous films are based on folklore itself based (at least nominally) on, respectively, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity. This time the inspiration is not a major religion but simply New Age thinking and conspiracy theories. Many touches have been put into the film to remind one both of Spielberg's and of Lucas's early films. To say more of what touches would be a spoiler.
Indiana's chief nemesis is Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett). Spalko carries a sword and apparently sports a Louise Brooks wig. Indiana's chief partner, in addition to Mutt Williams, is Mac McHale (Ray Winstone), a friend of dubious value. Along the way they pick up Ox Oxlay (John Hurt), an archeologist whose mind has been destroyed by contact with a crystal skull. Rounding out the group is Marion Ravenwood of the first film who returns here. There are four major surprises in the script, two of which are that you guessed each of the other two at least thirty minutes before the revelations.
Some nice moments enliven the film. There is a nice eerie moment early in the film, which on retrospect could have been taken intact from the 1954 Mickey Rooney comedy THE ATOMIC KID. Perhaps a little out of place for the feel of the series are the comic shots, highly digital, showing prairie dog reaction shots to the action. One touch may or may not have been intentional. In the film APOCALYPTO (2006) the wife of the main character is shown to be in a very dangerous situation and needs her husband to rescue her. INDIANA JONES puts people in the identical situation and shows that it is not actually dangerous at all. Since it is not dangerous, I can see no reason Spielberg to put his characters in this non-dangerous situation except to poke fun at APOCALYPTO.
In general one does not see an Indiana Jones movie for its intelligent plot or for factual accuracy. This film has some very serious geographical errors, but in addition we see just taken for granted some things that are simply not true. 1) Indiana Jones assumes that gunpowder is magnetic. Gunpowder consists of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. It is not magnetic. Confusing things is that later in the film some traditionally non-magnetic substances prove to be attracted to the super-magnets in this film, but Indiana Jones does not know that early in the film. 2) The super-magnets attract metal buttons, swords, and anything else that should be magnetic but apparently not Jeeps. Jeeps would have been made of magnetic material in 1957 as now. 3) Later in the film, stone that is being put in place by resting it on sand in a container and then letting the sand run out. It would not lower the stone any lower than the height where the sand is leaking out. We see such a stone descend further. 4) I have no idea what is the tensile strength of a large snake, but I seriously doubt it can be used as suggested.
Well, what are the geographic errors? David Koepp (who wrote the screenplay) really seems to have a deep confusion about the differences between Peru and Mexico. Peru and Mexico are about 2600 miles apart. Much of the film takes place in Peru on the Amazon and in the mountains. That was where the Inca civilization was, but all of the architecture we see is in the ornate Mayan style from thousands of miles to the north. The Incas never used this style. The native language in Peru is Quechua, which Indiana says he learned riding with Pancho Villa. Villa rode a long way from where Quechua is spoken. The area where Indiana goes is referred to as "Meso-America." The most southern part of Mexico is considered to be part of Meso-America, but Peru is much further south in South America. We see a 1957 map that lists Belize. There was no place with that name until June 1973. [Thanks to my wife, Evelyn, for catching many of these errors.] I will very likely get complaints that people do not go to an Indiana Jones film to learn geography, but if geographic errors bother me, I have to report them.
This is very much a turn-your-mind-off sort of film with some fun action sequences. There is nothing wrong with that. But I would have hoped turning off the mind should not have been so necessary. I rate INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0367882/
CHRONICLES OF AN EXORCISM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: CHRONICLES OF AN EXORCISM is a low-budget, direct-to- DVD, pseudo-documentary horror thriller. The title tells most of the story; the film shows an exorcism. Not surprisingly the style is much influenced by THE EXORCIST but is done in a crude "Blair Witch Project" filming style. The roughness of the filming style works for the film, but cut corners undermine the effort frequently. The film seems stretched out by seemingly endless on-screen Bible-reading and prayer. Nick G. Miller (who co-writes, directs, and stars) is spread a little thin, and the resulting film will be effective only for the most susceptible. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Horror films do not quite work the way films in other genre work. One might think that a well-polished, well-produced film would be a more effective one. But horror does not necessarily work that way. For a film to have a visceral impact it has to seem real. Films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or CARNIVAL OF SOULS work well as they do because they have a feeling of truth actually created by their unpolished production values. The style of a better production can get between the viewer and the story. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has started a more recent spate of horror films that get their power from their apparent crudeness. CLOVERFIELD is another recent example.
The title of this film tells most of what the viewer needs to know about CHRONICLES OF AN EXORCISM. Shot with shaky handheld cameras in and around a ramshackle house in the country, we see a story of a woman possessed by demons and the attempts to destroy the demons by a team of stealth exorcists. (Why stealth? The film claims that the Catholic Church has renounced exorcisms but still sanctions them in secret. Actually I believe it revised the rites in 1999, but it has not renounced them altogether.) The exorcists are Fathers Michael and Lucas (played by Matthew Ashford and Nick G. Miller, both a little young to be well- experienced exorcists). They have cast out demons in Eastern Europe, South America, and "the jungles of Korea." (Korea has jungles?) Pastor Bill (Ray W. Keziah) has brought them here to exorcise the demons possessing Tina (Dara Wedel) in front of documentary camera. Not everyone in the group agrees what treatment is needed.
I am not Catholic myself, so the proceedings do not have a lot of credibility for me. I am willing to suspend disbelief about as much as I did for THE EXORCIST thirty-five years ago. It does not take a lot more since that script seems to have been used as a handbook for the religious background of this film. It is similar to the fact that most vampire films seem to follow the rules found in Bram Stoker's novel DRACULA even though the actual folklore itself varies a great deal from country to country. Not a whole lot happens in this film that did not happen in THE EXORCIST. Hearing that this is a multiple demon possessing instead of one possessing the woman does not give the film a lot more impact. Nor is it clear why as claimed that the principles discovered in this exorcism would help thousands of people. For much of this film we just see people praying over a convulsing woman.
Visually the film frequently has problems. The possessed woman is played by Dara Wedel who is a little too sexy to make the proceedings seem credible. She wears white contact lenses with little black irises. But since the white of the lenses does not match the white of her eyes, the result just looks silly. When she speaks we hear on the soundtrack her voice and a deep bass voice, presumably that of a demon. A similar effect was used on the soundtrack of THE EXORCIST. Most of the effects are borrowed familiar from THE EXORCIST.
This is that sort of horror film that really needs a Friday night or a great deal of suspension of disbelief. I rate CHRONICLES OF AN EXORCISM a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0999970/
For Vatican policy on exorcism see: http://www.trosch.org/chu/exorcism.htm#cwn.
The Cold Equations (letter of comment by Steve Milton):
In response to Mark's article on "The Cold Equations" in the 05/23/08 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes, "With regard to the story 'The Cold Equations', there is one solution where the girl lives; the pilot sacrifices himself. This is where I thought the story was going when I first read it." [-smm]
Mark responds, "If the ship could do without a qualified pilot, maybe by robotic control, why have a pilot in the first place? The premise of the story, whether properly stated or not, is that the ship needed everything it had but the girl. The premise of the story, properly written or not, is that being unable to change the laws of physics one of two bad outcomes must take place and it is wrenching to have to be the person who makes the decision. Sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two very unpleasant evils. Two other stories that have the theme are FAIL SAFE and the non-SF SOPHIE'S CHOICE." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our book discussion group read PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf (ISBN-13 978-0-375-70585-4, ISBN-10 0-375-70585-6). It was better than a lot of the current fiction chosen for discussion groups in that the people all seem like the sort of people you might meet in the supermarket--there are no serial killers, wacko fundamentalists, etc. But the one element I am going to comment on is the lack of quotation marks. From what I read about this, this may be a new trend among fiction writers: leaving out the quotation marks altogether and having the paragraph structure and internal clues let the reader know who is talking. Many reviewers liked this, saying it gave the book an immediacy and a feeling of involvement for the reader. Others found it distracting and confusing. I am in the latter camp. It was not always confusing, but as someone who grew up reading books with quotation marks, I did find it distracting. It is perhaps less of a gimmick than writing an entire book without the letter "e", but it still seems a gimmick.
I have been watching episodes of "The Time Tunnel" (courtesy of Netflix), and have a few comments to make on the notorious "Revenge of the Gods" episode set at ancient Troy. First of all, "The Time Tunnel" in general made use of footage from various historical movies when appropriate (and sometimes when not). So the Krakatoa episode used footage from KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA, the Battle of New Orleans episode used footage from THE BUCCANNEER, and so on. For Troy, however, the producers had no Trojan War movie to use, so they used footage from THE 300 SPARTANS.
What this meant, of course, was that this episode ended up with *three* levels of errors. First, there were the errors inherent in THE 300 SPARTANS, such as the fact that it shows horsemen using stirrups when in fact they had not been invented for several hundred years (after Thermopylae, or a millennium after Troy).
Then there were the errors made by using the Battle of Thermopylae to represent the Battle of Troy. The costumes, armor, etc., are all anachronistic, but the fact that the Trojans seem to be dressed as Persian warriors is particularly egregious. And the Greek shields all have a lambda on them--okay for representing the army of Leonides at Thermopylae, but meaningless for the Greeks under Agamemnon.
And then there were the errors that the "Time Tunnel" writers added themselves. For some reason all the characters are called by their Roman names (Ulysses, Jupiter, Minerva, etc.)--except for Paris (whose name was Alexander in the Roman form). I guess they figured the viewers would confuse him with Alexander the Great if they called him Alexander. They also introduce a character named Sardis, a Greek who goes over to the Trojan side. There is no such character, either in Homer or in Virgil. (Note: here is the connection to books--this is a book column, after all. :-) )
Oh, and the Greeks and Trojans all speak English. This is particularly irksome because in some of the other episodes, Doug and Tony meet people who speak other languages. Admittedly, in those there is usually a convenient English-speaking traveler to help them out, but still, it indicates that there was at least a nod to the language problem.
At one point, the base team decides to send hand grenades and sub-machine guns back to Doug and Tony. (Why? Don't they worry about introducing these into history?) So they tell the character Jiggs to get some, and ten seconds later he returns with a sack of weapons. Were these just sitting around in the time tunnel control room? Later, after Jiggs is accidentally sent back, he is retrieved, first with some error such that he returns as an old man, and then a second time as his original age. One question unanswered is whether Jiggs remembers being old the first time they bring him back out of the tunnel. Another is why they can manage to bring Jiggs back *twice* and Doug and Tony not at all.
And why do Doug's and Tony's clothes magically return to their original clothes right before they are transported to a new time?
As with all the shows, the footage shot specifically for the show seems incredibly set-bound, which is even more obvious when inter-cut with the film footage. When they land on the beach, it is obvious that it is just a thin layer of sand over a floor. (Other shows which have people actually at the meeting of sea and shore are obvious filmed at a back-lot artificial pond.) And, as one often finds, the floors and ground are too clean and the clothing, furniture, and props too perfectly made.
(I also suspect that the sword-fighting techniques shown are not appropriate to the time, but I cannot be sure.)
When "The Time Tunnel" was first on (in 1966) I loved it. Let's face it, there was not much in the way of televised science fiction back then. (Now, of course, one can get science fiction shows 'round the clock.) I am still a fan of time travel stories but I have (I suppose) become more discriminating. I can still enjoy "The Time Tunnel" as a fun cheesy show from my youth, but as little else. [-ecl]
[For information on writing without "e" see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-lip1.htm.
In "The Time Tunnel" the use of English is not the error it might seem. The use of English for foreign languages is an artificial convention often used in films and plays. After all, everybody spoke English in BEN HUR. It is meant here to mean that everybody is speaking Ancient Greek and that the time travelers are fluent in conversational Ancient Greek. That makes the two physicists a little too accomplished, but it is not the biggest absurdity of the TV series. In THE GREY ZONE a German is angered because two Poles are speaking in Polish which he does not understand. However, in the scene all three are speaking in English. -mrl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A man's women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. -- H. L. Mencken
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