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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/06/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 49, Whole Number 1496
Table of Contents
British Horror Stamps:
"In the UK, June 10 will see the release of Hammer horror-related stamps. The U.S. honored Elvis and Star Wars with their own stamps--now the UK is doing the same thing for Chris Lee and Peter Cushing."
Ouch! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Hillary Clinton, who conceded that she will not get the nomination, has said that she is a fighter. She says she may stumble, but she gets back up. That is exactly what I do not like about our current President. When he stumbles he gets right back up there. It is the rest of us who are left bloodied and broken on the ground, but he still gets up just fine. I want a President who gets up less because he or she stumbles a whole lot less. [-mrl]
The United States' Best Kept Travel Secret (part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was describing my trip to Southern Utah. I described Zion National Park. We are up to Tuesday and our second National Park. This is Bryce Canyon National Park. Wind and water have created very different sort of textures here. The rock is sandy and you get little cracks in it near the canyons' edges. The cracks get bigger and more exaggerated and worn down so you get strangely shaped columns of rock. The predominant color is red, but there are lighter and darker shades of it going from one column to the next. The softer layers of the columns are more worn away so the spindles get narrower at the same height from one column to the next. They are so regular that they give the impression of having been carved by the hand of some artist. Some places they look like armies of soldiers. Other places they remind me of Hindu temples. But they are there in their thousands. The columns are dozens of feet high.
Now I am not sure why this sort of topography is so different from that at Zion National Park. The two parks are not very far apart. But the quality of stone may be a little different and the elements may have hit a little differently.
I don't know why the rock formations remind me so much of temples. Some structures in Canyonlands which we did not see this trip reminded me of Greek temples. You have an upper layer that remains intact and a lower layer that is worn into almost columns that look like pillars in the temple. Then the gravel at the base looks like steps leading up. An example of this, a little more eroded than the examples I am thinking of can be seen in the following.
However, analogies to classical architecture are not original with me. When a rounded cliff face is broken into these columns--they are called hoodoos--you get what is called an amphitheater. That is somebody's analogy to the seating in an ancient Greek theater. The picture below shows you one such and also gives a feel for the scale of these sites.
Wednesday of our trip we were in Capitol Reef National Park. Unlike Bryce, there is not any single sort of rock formation that can be said to be typical of what is found in Capitol Reef. Instead, there is a very large variety of immense rock formations--almost all entirely different from what we have seen before. There is a very long line of cliff faces that seem to stretch on for dozens of miles. Here the pressures underground pushed up a large layer of ground and pushed some underneath in a fold nearly a hundred miles long near the Fremont River. In cross-section there was a sort of an S-shape about 7000 feet from the top to the bottom. The ground broke, leaving a very long line of rock cliffs exposed. Where there were collapses there were up-juttings like what we see in this picture:
This area probably has the greatest variety of shapes. Actually it is called a reef not because it was a reef at one point in prehistory, but just that it was something that was very hard to pass by wagon. It is Capitol Reef because one of the structures looked like the United States Capitol.
Of the parks we saw I think that Zion impressed me most just from the sheer scale. Everything in Capitol Reef is very big, but not as big as what we saw in Zion and we were right up next to the rock faces on the road. My mother's favorite was Capitol Reef, I think because of the spectacular variety of structures. On our first trip Bryce was Evelyn's favorite, but she is less sure now because we saw different views of the parks this trip. But next week I will talk about the sights at Arches and at Canyonlands which are spectacular in their own ways. [-mrl]
THE LIFE I LIVED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Ben E. Solenberger writes and directs this story of a small town contractor who little by little became a racketeer. On the day that Bill Cacchiotti is leaving both his legal and illegal business, he thinks back about how he came to be a criminal and what it did to him and his family. The production values are amateurish and too many of the minor actors cannot deliver lines, but the story is involving and probably will not disappoint fans of THE SOPRANOS. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
THE LIFE I LIVED has the feel of a rough draft of a better film yet to come. With better photography and a little more atmosphere this could have been a film that would attract attention. I think that in a few years writer/director Ben E. Solenberger may have more talent and will be able to do this story in a more accomplished form. Solenberger filmed his screenplay with little art beyond the art of storytelling. But even as it stands, THE LIVE I LIVED is not a bad crime film.
Bill Cacchiotti (played by Richard Bennett) is nominally a small town electrical supplies dealer and the head of a tiny local crime syndicate. On the day he is retiring he thinks back on his life. It is not such a wonderful life. He can be pretty nasty by nature and sometimes he breaks the law in small ways, but some of his poker-playing buddies convince him that it is more fun to break it big.
As the story progresses he thinks about innocent incidents, like a stranger in a cowboy hat introducing him to what would be his favorite Scotch. But his memories increasingly involve breaking the law to get what he wants. Even before he realizes it he has become a small mob boss involved in killings. The more he retreats from legitimacy into more profitable crime the deeper he gets into alcohol and the more his family relationships suffer. Killing becomes easier for him and dealing with people becomes harder. Bill even has his own personal burial grounds for enemies he has shot. Though he has no connection with the Mafia, he is in every other way a sort of a small town version of Tony Soprano. He even shares Tony Soprano's ample build and his anguish. Bill is certainly not proud of what he has become and even less of what it did to his wife and his son.
Solenberger's off-beat dialog falls a little short of the PULP FICTION standard, but it has its moments. At least by look the actors are all believable. In fact the cast may look more realistic than the cast in the Godfather movies. But once you get past the two or three main actors, the acting talent becomes very spotty. Some line readings sound like they are taken from a first run-through on the script. Set dressing is generally a bare minimum.
It is hard for me to watch this film without picturing the same story done with a better production values and a more polished visual style. In the extras of the DVD Solenberg looks to be little more than of college age. My advice to is to hold on to his script and remake this film with a better budget, a better look, and some more uniform acting talent. I rate this film a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
There is no IMDB entry; information on the film is at http://www.myspace.com/thelifeilived
THE LIFE I LIVED was released directly to DVD on May 27, 2008. [-mrl]
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (letter of comment by Bobbi Fox):
In response to Mark's review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL in the 05/30/08 issue of the MT VOID, Bobbi Fox writes, "Perhaps the H. L. Mencken quote is supposed to clue me in as to whether you were writing the following tongue-in-cheek: 'Karen Allen is back as Marion Ravenwood and is well-preserved enough to still be attractive.' Well-preserved? WELL-PRESERVED? Karen Allen is gorgeous in her role. I should ever have looked so good!" [-bf]
[People will have to decide if she is gorgeous. She certainly looks pretty good for 56. -mrl]
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, Information, and "The Cold Equations" (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to a variety of things, Taras Wolansky writes:
A veritable orgy of nitpicking -- I loved it!
[Re INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, 05/30/08] I think the last scene of INDY 4 should have been: Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) as a specimen in an intergalactic zoo. Too bad they killed her off: she was a rather likable villain.
By the way, I happened to look up INDY 4 co-star John Hurt on IMDB, and I see he's returning to one of his best roles: Quentin Crisp.
[Re useful information from corrupted sources, 05/09/08 and 05/16/08] Some time ago I made a mental note: if somebody wanted to see Wikipedia at its worst, look up the entry for Sen. Barbara Boxer. It reads like a campaign puff piece (or it did a few months ago). I looked at the discussion page and discovered this is because of what I decided to call a Wikitroll: a fan (or employee?) who watches the site and deletes anything that is less than adulatory.
I recall that the article on the Bush-Gore Florida 2000 controversy was also an interesting case. (I'm too lazy to look it up again!) If you read it carefully, you learned that when a newspaper consortium continued the recount that the Supreme Court stopped, Bush won anyway. However, the chart put purely hypothetical recounts, never begun and under different rules which were never used, at the top, apparently because Gore ended up ahead by a handful of votes.
Another thing I've seen: somebody posts something on his website, and then goes to Wikipedia and edits in a link to what he just posted.
[Re "The Cold Equations", 05/23/08] There's one thing about the Sci-Fi Channel version of "The Cold Equations" that I still remember. The astronaut and the stowaway come up with solutions to their conundrum--solutions that *would have* worked, had they come up with them sooner, earlier in the spacecraft's orbit. I was very surprised to see such a sophisticated idea in such a low-grade venue. [-tw]
The Iliad (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Iliad in the 05/30/08 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes, "[You said,] '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).' This is not really true as stated. The name 'Alexander' is not a Roman form, the way 'Ulysses' is a Roman form of 'Odysseus'. Both 'Paris' and 'Alexander' occur in the original Greek of the Iliad as names for the same man; in fact the narration calls him 'Alexander' rather more often than 'Paris'. How do I know this? Well, I'm currently about halfway through reading the epic right now. In Greek." [-dg]
Evelyn replies, "Mea culpa. I think of 'Alexander' as the Roman form because when I was reading Samuel Butler's translation, he used that along with all the Roman names for the gods. I have also read the Iliad in Greek, but that was over thirty-five years ago, and my memory for which names they used is obviously weak." [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently listened to DON'T EAT THIS BOOK: FAST FOOD AND THE SUPERSIZING OF AMERICA by Morgan Spurlock (ISBN-13 978-0-143-05731-4, ISBN-10 0-143-05731-6) (read by Morgan Spurlock). In this book he briefly describes the inspiration and making of his film SUPERSIZE ME!, but spends most of his time attacking "Big Food" (e.g., Kraft, McDonalds, etc.), which he compares in power and effect to "Big Tobacco". While on the whole I agree with him, he makes enough errors in fact or logic to make it hard to endorse the book wholeheartedly.
For example, he says that he suddenly realized at one point that during his month-long McDonalds diet he would not be eating any fresh fruit. "No peaches. No pears. No lemons. No limes." (I may have the exact fruits and/or order wrong--it's really hard to flip back through an audiobook to get an exact quote!) But I'm not sure that is true. If McDonalds serves tea, they may very well have lemon wedges for it. (Then again, they may have just pouches of lemon juice. However, I don't go to McDonalds often enough to check before this appears.)
He also uses "soda" and "soft drink" to mean sugared cola. For example, when he says someone has a soft drink, he talks about how much sugar and phosphoric acid (found only in colas) they are getting. He does say that some people ask, "What about sugar-free sodas?" but then goes on about how bad aspartame is. But what about (for example) root beer, lemon-lime sodas, or ginger ale? If he means colas he should say colas.
He also responds to critics who say that what he did was extreme by saying what he did was consistent with people's eating habits. This is based on somewhat questionable logic. For example, because some people eat at McDonalds several times a week, he extrapolates that they must be eating junk food all the rest of the time. But this is not necessarily true. For example, in my town I see a bunch of mail tracks clustered around Wendy's at lunch time. It's a fast, convenient place to eat, and one that one can get a large group to agree on. This does not mean when these mail carriers go home they eat junk food. They may very well eat wonderfully at home. (To some extent, I think Spurlock has a skewed view of all this because 1) he lives in Manhattan, and 2) he works by himself and on his own schedule.) And I still think that always supersizing when asked is cheating. Let's face it, while it may be true that there are people who do, clearly not everyone answers "yes" when asked.
[He cannot be assuming that some people eat junk food all the time. When he ate junk food for a month he got some unusual and unexpected medical symptoms. If there were people who ate the same food all the time the symptoms would be neither unexpected nor unusual. -mrl]
Spurlock criticizes the food lunch program for serving what big agriculture is pushing rather than what is healthy, but I do find his negative attitude toward milk a little peculiar. He seems to think that schools should not be serving milk. Yes, milk, though he thinks it's great that schools have vending machines that sell bottled water. If you want to look at a useless "food product" that's been pushed onto consumers by "Big Food" advertising, you don't have to look any father than bottled water.
In another example of how Spurlock seems to have been taken in by the very advertising he decries, he speaks of not eating red meat more than a couple of times a month, and then talks about how good pork is, as if it were not red meat.
One problem with audiobooks is that expressions which look okay on the page don't always sound good. Spurlock uses a lot of "mmm" (meaning "yummy") constructions ("Pesticides in your food? Mmmm!"). As I said, these look fine on the page, but read aloud, they sound very lame. It's possible that a better actor could deliver the lines better, but I wouldn't count on it.
A few weeks ago, I quoted the beginning of Jeffrey E. Barlough's BERTRAM OF BUTTER CROSS as an example of how a book can grab me in the first couple of paragraphs. HEART OF LIGHT by Sarah A. Hoyt (ISBN-13 978-0-553-58966-5, ISBN-10 0-553-58966-0) begins:
"What is wrong?" Emily asked.
She sat, naked, on her bridal bed, the waves of her dark hair falling like a dusky veil over her golden shoulders and small breasts. Over it, wrapped around her, she clutched a multicolored flowered shawl, a legacy from her Indian grandmother.
Nigel, her husband of ten hours, stood at the foot of the bed, trying to arrange his blue dressing gown with shaking hands and only managing to twist it, so it hung askew and displayed a portion of his pale muscular chest.
Far from grabbing me, this overripe romance prose made me want to grab it--and hurl it across the room. However, this was a library book, and I did need to read it in my capacity as a member of the Sidewise Awards panel, so I "soldiered on." While the rest of the book was not this appallingly bad, it had a whole series of flaws. First, it seemed very much inspired by Naomi Novick's "Temeraire" series; set in what is basically our world in the 19th century, but with (Chinese) dragons and magic. (Hoyt sets her story in late Victorian times, while Novick sets hers in the Napoleonic Wars.) But everything in this book is far too similar to our timeline (more so than in "Temeraire"): Victoria is Queen, Albert is dead, there was a Chinese Gordon and Mahdists, and so on. This *can* work, but it requires a deft touch; Esther Friesner did it reasonable well with DRUID'S BLOOD, for example, but here it fails to convince me.
There is also far too much feminist preaching: every few chapters Emily muses on her condition as a wife who is under the legal control of her husband, who cannot do anything on her own, who envies the Masai woman who is independent (and how likely is that, one wonders?), and so on. And of course there is the obligatory display of racist attitudes by the Europeans (and how wrong they are).
Oh, and it is the first of a series. With no warning of this on the cover or the back cover. Only inside the front cover does one see "Look for Sarah A. Hoyt's next fantasy" and a picture of the cover of SOUL OF FIRE, clearly book two in the series. (And an excerpt of SOUL OF FIRE at the end of the book confirms this.) I've said before what I think of publishers who do this, and have not changed my opinion since then. Ptui! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not. -- Fran Lebowitz
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