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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/13/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 50, Whole Number 1497
Table of Contents
229's Missing Digit (puzzle by Mark R. Leeper):
The number 229 (that is the product of 29 twos) is a nine-digit number and all nine of the digits are different from each other. That means exactly one digit does not occur. Using only pencil and paper, figure out the digit that does not appear. I will publish the answer next week. We will publish the name of anyone who sends me a solution. Note: we do not want just the answer. A good calculator will give you that. You have to tell how you could figure out the answer with only pencil and paper. [-mrl]
Dangers of Having an Older Father (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Drudge Report has a headline that read "DANGERS OF HAVING AN OLDER FATHER REVEALED..." I think we are just going to have to live with the danger. Everybody has an older father. That is just how it works. Wish him well on Sunday. [-mrl]
The United States' Best Kept Travel Secret (part 3) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This continues my description of the parks in the Canyon Country of Southern Utah. We moved along and got a room in Moab, Utah.
On Thursday we visited Arches National Park.
Arches National Park is known and named for its natural stone arches. Arches are really formed from fins. Fins are formed when water running over a rock face splits. The two streams carve the two sides of what becomes a long narrow slice of rock. Over time the cuts become deeper and deeper. Water and wind and sand blast one or both sides until they wear a hole through the narrow stone. The wind carries water and sand through the hold drilling it wider. Eventually all you have is a stone arch. The most famous arch in the park is Delicate Arch.
The above is the official arch of Utah. Even license plates in Utah show this arch. Not that I consider it the most beautiful arch in the park. I would say that Landscape Arch is more impressive and more delicate. In fact, it looks like it will fall apart any moment.
Now it may be just me, but there are so many odd formations in the park that the arches are not really the main attraction. Wind, rain, and sand have carved a lot of impressive and/or weird shapes. One can get an idea of the scale by the size of the road in this picture:
One of the peculiar features that turn up in a lot of tourist pictures of the area is a balancing rock. It will appear to be a huge boulder balanced delicately on the top of a rock spire.
How did the boulder come to rest there? It didn't come. It was always there. At least it was there as long as it has been a separate boulder. A balancing rock together with the spire it is on is an extreme case of a hoodoo, as I described last week. You will have a column of rock with harder rock supported by softer rock. Erosion will trim the softer rock below and one is left with a less scathed rock on top of a spindly column. The rock probably will fall some day. In fact, it will probably fall soon. But that soon is measured in geological terms. If it falls in a thousand years, that is soon. Just the same, it is probably not a good idea to climb these rocks.
Friday our first stop was at Dead Horse Point State Park. The park with this sepulchral name is best known for its promontory lookout over a canyon.
Canyons are more impressive from the base than from the top, but the picture above I just a detail of a canyon that goes on and on, wrapping around the viewer for at least 180 degrees of angle. Last trip I figured if I wanted a panoramic view it would take at least seven photographs. The photo above shows what river water- -in this case the Colorado River--does to sandstone when it washes it away for longer than there has been life on earth. It took a long time to prepare this show for you. The river is something like 2000 feet below the rim where the park is. It is not has deep a canyon as Zion is and you do see it from the top, but it is still pretty darn impressive.
Last trip I think this was what I considered the most impressive view of the trip. However, we saw the parks in a different order. Dead Horse Point was near the beginning of the trip. It is still really great, but it has more competition from things we have seen in the days before.
More to come next week. [-mrl]
Predictions (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
If you asked people in 1948 (sixty years ago) to give the probabilities of each of the following in 2008, would the answers look anything like today's world? (Terminology is of 1948 as well.)
(In the late 1990s, each of us was asked at a diversity meeting at work how likely we thought it was that a "person of color" could be elected President by 2010. I said I thought it was reasonably likely that one could, though almost everyone else said it was very unlikely. One of the black people immediately asked me, "Do you really think a black man could be elected President?" I pointed out to her than a "person of color" could be Hispanic, and I certainly thought a Hispanic could be. This was definitely a conversation-stopper, and proved (to me, anyway) that this whole "person of color" thing is as full of holes as a sponge. But it was clear that even ten years ago, the idea of a black Presidential candidate was not in people's crystal balls.) [-ecl]
Postscript: The following is from the transcript of the June 8 MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Which, which leads me to Robert F. Kennedy. We're going to talk about him in our "Meet the Press Minute". But look at this. He gave a speech to the Voice of America all around the world forty years ago. And despite what was going on in the country, particularly in Alabama, Bobby Kennedy said this: Things are "moving so fast in race relations a Negro could be President in forty years." This is in 1968, we're now in 2008. "`There's no question about it,' the attorney general said. `In the next forty years a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has.' ...
BRASYL by Ian McDonald (copyright 2007, PYR, $25.00, 357pp, ISBN 978-1-59102-543-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, every year there is one book on the list that all the critics love. There just don't seem to be enough good words to say about it. It's on all the awards' nominee lists. It seems like a shoe-in to win the award, at least if you believe the critics.
And invariably, I hate it.
This year is no exception.
In an odd turn of events, Evelyn and I actually agree on a book. The thing is, she's the smarter one--she decided not to finish it. I did.
This was painful. It was painful because, as Evelyn pointed out, you have to keep going to the glossary to look up a word that you don't understand (it's kind of like JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL, in that you have to read footnotes in teeny tiny print on a great number of pages, but at least in that book you understood the words). It was painful because it spent too much time immersing you in the culture and country of Brazil and not enough time on the story itself. You do remember my rant about good storytelling, don't you? It was painful because the book was nearly half done before anything interesting happened and you started to get the idea of what the *real* story was that was going on. It was painful because there was no real resolution to the storyline--if there was much of one. By the end I was left scratching my head as to why I should even *care* about what was going on in this book, let alone want to know what happened to the characters we were following throughout this novel.
As an aside, I literally just went and read my review of the last Ian McDonald Hugo nominee, RIVER OF GODS. If you want how I really feel about BRASYL, read that review and ignore the bits about the plot of that book and insert the ones I'm going to tell you about this one.
Our story takes place in three timelines: 2006, 2032, and 1732. In 2006, we follow Marcelina Hoffman, a television producer who is looking for the next killer show to enhance her career. She intends to find the Brazilian soccer goalie who lost the Fateful Final and sent the Brazilian nation into disgrace (apparently the story of the Fateful Final is true--it *has* to be more interesting than this novel). In 2032 we follow Edson, a sort of talent scout who falls into the world of, get this, *illegal quantum computing*. In 1732, we follow Jesuit Father Luis Quinn as he attempts to track down and apprehend a rogue priest who apparently is doing something very naughty in the dark depths of Brazil. So, what's the hook? Quantum computing, that's the hook. There's something very sinister going on in all three timelines that revolves around quantum computing (although the folks in 1732 don't know it as that). Things start to get interesting when we first encounter a "Q-blade", a knife that will cut through anything. As it turns out, that in and of itself is a clue to a revelation that occurs later in the book that is interesting but is never really followed up on.
I was trying to decide whether I should spoil the main idea here just to show you how interesting this book could have been had it actually cared enough to care about the idea and work with it as oppose to teasing us with it, saying "here look at this very neat idea that I'm going to give you a peek at, but look quick because I'm going to put it away right away and oh by the way I'm going to show it to you at the end of the book". Once I saw the idea, I thought "okay, NOW we can get started". Nope we were done.
I decided to let you read it yourself and decide.
I think this was a huge waste of my time. [-jak]
TRUMBO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The story of Dalton Trumbo's career is told, based on the play of the same name by Dalton's son, Christopher Trumbo. The story is illuminated by Trumbo's writings, particularly his correspondence dramatically read by major actors of the film industry. Actors recreate the moods of this always tremendously well-spoken man. This may be the last film to feature Trumbo's writing and it has some of his most powerful prose. It is may be the best film that has ever been made about the Hollywood blacklist and the Hollywood Ten. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
The darkest chapter of the American entertainment industry was the years of the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era. People accused of disloyalty to the government--usually for actions that were completely within their Constitutional rights-- could not confront their accusers, but would suddenly find that nobody would hire them. Careers were destroyed by innuendo.
Ten Hollywood screenwriters refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation into whether as anonymously accused, there were Communist influences in the film industry. In most cases this lack of cooperation was a refusal to betray their friends and give names of people who could be accused of being Communists. Unchecked the accusations would have spread in a chain reaction. If each person accused gave the names of two others the entire film industry could have been consumed. Ten screenwriters refused to cooperate. These were the Hollywood Ten.
One screenwriter among the ten was Dalton Trumbo. Before the years of the blacklist he was a successful screenwriter with an eloquent and powerful command of the English language. Like the others of the Ten, he was sentenced to a year in prison on the charge of contempt of Congress. When he was released he had become an un-person as far as his Hollywood career was concerned. Studios could not hire him for fear of being accused themselves of hiring Communists. Trumbo could submit only very few scripts he had written and then only under a pseudonym or by the use of a front man whom Trumbo would allow to claim credit for Trumbo's work. In 1956 a Trumbo script--submitted under the fictitious name Robert Rich--was given an Academy Award that could not be claimed. Then in 1960 two major films were released, SPARTACUS and EXODUS, each written by Dalton Trumbo. The producers and directors of these films risked the wrath of the American public and gave Trumbo screen credit for his own work. It was an extremely risky action. The decision to use Trumbo's name was made by Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger respectively of these two films. When there was little fuss from the public. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper was a notable exception calling SPARTACUS "A story sold to Universal from a book written by a Commie [Howard Fast], and the screen script was written by a Commie [Dalton Trumbo], so don't go see it." When the public did go see it it was generally acknowledged that the blacklist was dead. Trumbo, Preminger, and especially Douglas had tested the waters and demonstrated that the government hunt for supposed Communist influences had lost the support of the American people.
The story of Trumbo is important and moving enough. But nine major actors give dramatic readings to his correspondence: Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, and Donald Sutherland. In addition Kirk Douglas also talks about his relationship with Trumbo and the history of the period. In addition there are filmed interviews with Trumbo to fill in gaps and interviews with family and friends still living.
The story covered by the film goes from Trumbo's career in the 1930s to his final acceptance back to public approval in 1960 (with a bit of a postscript in the 1970s). In the 1930s the Communist Party seemed to be the only American party that had a direct policy of opposing Fascism and confronting dictators. During World War II, the Soviets were at least nominally America's allies. But when the war was over the fear and hatred of the Soviets turned into a vicious anti-Communist witch-hunt. Some actors, afraid for their positions, willingly cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The first who did not cooperate were called the Unfriendly Ten. Later they were re-dubbed the Hollywood Ten. The film follows Trumbo through his time in prison and then to his self-exile to Mexico to find work that he could not find the United States. The actors dramatize his many moods reflected in his correspondence including Paul Giamatti's very funny reading of a letter from Dalton to son Christopher on the subject of masturbation, a letter that probably ranks with Mark Twain's 1601. The film follows Trumbo through times when he was taking any work he could get and when he returned by screenwriting, the career he had promised himself he would never enter again. He used fronts and pseudonyms to sell his scripts while hiding his name. All of this is described with great eloquence in his correspondence. It is also illustrated with scenes that he wrote for the movies, which take on new meaning in the context of Trumbo's life.
There is a certain continuity across the many actors who read his words. They can be funny or sad or serious and heavy, but it is the same voice behind them and the same carefully and powerfully wrought prose. TRUMBO is among other things a lesson in how two say volumes with an economy of words. As a sort of grand finale the actors all share a reading with overlapping segments so each can get a part of this one reading.
As admirable as TRUMBO is, and as powerful in his convictions, Dalton Trumbo is not the hero of this story. Dalton Trumbo is a man whose strong character was more important to himself than his sense of self-preservation. By being a person of character he knowingly (or mostly knowingly) allowed himself to be the victim of dangerous political forces. The real hero of this film is Kirk Douglas. He is present and speaking through stroke-slurred speech, but he obviously wanted to participate. Another hero is Otto Preminger who also credited Trumbo's work. These two men risked losing heir careers to make a stand against the Hollywood blacklist. TRUMBO is essentially the story of a rescue against high odds. And more than just Trumbo's career was rescued. Douglas and Preminger are the rescuers. This film concentrates on why that rescue was necessary, why it had to be done, and why all Americans are the beneficiaries of the rescue of one articulate contrarian with a bushy moustache. I rate TRUMBO a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Kirk Douglas gives a good account of his part in the events in his autobiography THE RAGMAN'S SON. The film TRUMBO gets its New York City release on June 27.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0889671/
Southern Utah (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's articles on southern Utah in the 05/30/08 and 06/06/08 issues of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes, " My brother lives out in Scottsdale, and we have hiked a lot of that part of the world. I could not agree with you more about the amazing beauty of that part of the world. I've hiked the Paria Canyon, which is one of the slot canyons in Southern Utah. Once you are about an hour or so in, the only choice is to finish the hike. You have to check the weather before you start, though. if there is a chance of rain, you should not enter the canyon because of the risk of death due to flash floods. In the right time of the year, ou can camp by putting a tarp on the ground and just getting into a sleeping bag! My obligatory science fiction reference: ever been to Goblin Valley [State Park] out there? My brother took me and I was struck by how familiar it seemed to me... and then I realized, it was the site of the location shoot for the rock-monster-planet scene in GALAXY QUEST. The "monsters" occur naturally: they are these astounding rock formations that needed only a little CGI to attack Tim Allen!
Mark responds, "This trip we did not do much hiking. We had my mother with us. And truth be known, we are getting a little fat and lazy ourselves. On previous trips we hiked. And, yes, we did see Goblin Valley back in May of 1995, before GALAXY QUEST. And we did recognize the area when we saw the film. I am not sure I would use the word 'beauty' for the area I am talking about. It is not so much beautiful as majestic and even baroque." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES: ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF CHINESE FOOD by Jennifer 8. Lee (ISBN-13 978-0-446-58007-6, ISBN-10 0-446-58007-4) began in 2005 when the Powerball lottery had 110 second-place winners instead of the expected 3 or 4. Why? Because five of the six winning numbers were printed on thousands of slips in fortune cookies, and 110 people picked them in the lottery. Lee started out trying to find out the origins of the fortune cookie, and along the way also discovered the truth about General Tso's Chicken, what "chop suey" really is, why Jews like Chinese food (and at least something about the Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989), what the connection is between Chinese restaurants and illegal immigration, and why no one can agree on what soy sauce is. Eventually, Lee does track down the fortune cookie, but the digressions are actually more interesting than that particular search.
I got several "graphic novels" from the library. Well, not graphic novels precisely, since a couple are non-fiction. (So what do we call graphic books that are non-fiction?)
BONE SHARPS, COWBOYS, AND THUNDER LIZARDS: EDWARD DRINKER COPE, OTHNIEL CHARLES MARSH, AND THE GILDED AGE OF PALEONTOLOGY by Jim Ottaviani & Big Time Attic (ISBN-13 978-09660106-6-4, ISBN-10 09660106-6-3) is about ... well, what the title says. At 165 pages, it covers the subject fairly well with a straightforward approach done in sepia tones. It does not deliver the dinosaurs that the cover seems to promise, except as museum skeletons and isolated fossils, but it does give the reader an idea of what paleontology was like in the Gilded Age. Readers should be sure to read the "Fact or Fiction?" section at the back to find out where Ottaviani took liberties with the truth.
[If none of this makes any sense to you see http://www.150.si.edu/chap7/dinos.htm -mrl]
SUSPENDED IN LANGUAGE: NIELS BOHR'S LIFE, DISCOVERIES, AND THE CENTURY HE SHAPED by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis (ISBN-13 978-0-9660106-5-7, ISBN-10 0-9660106-5-5), on the other hand, is 318 densely packed pages of physics. (Indeed, at times Ottaviani and Purvis abandon the graphic style for solid paragraphs of text--and hard-to-read text at that, with closely spaced san serif typeface with normal, bold, *and* italic fonts, all in the same paragraph. This would be difficult to follow even as a regular biography, but the added graphics make it even more difficult. (Indeed, one of the points it makes is that the "solar system model" of the atom is the last one that people could visualize--and it is wrong. Part of the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle is that one cannot see some things, so there is a certain irony in the graphic format here.
Eureka Productions has a series called GRAPHIC CLASSICS, each of which has six to ten short pieces by the featured author, each done by a different person (or people). For example, the H. P. LOVECRAFT volume (ISBN-13 978-0-9746648-9-7, ISBN-10 0-9746648-9-8) has "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" adapted by Alex Burrows and illustrated by Simon Gane, "The Shadow Out of Time" adapted and illustrated by Matt Howarth, and so on. This means that if you do not like the style of one piece, you may like the next. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had (in my opinion) too many panels that were almost entirely black and dark gray. "Dreams in the Witch-House" has a very stark (one might almost say harsh) black and white look. "Sweet Ermengarde" uses a much lighter touch, with thinner lines and more detail. "The Cats of Ulthar" is basically a text story with one large illustration on each page. And so on. Similarly, the MARK TWAIN volume (ISBN-13 978-0-9787919-2-6, ISBN-10 0-9787919-2-4) has a variety of styles as well. I would love to see GOTHIC CLASSICS (ISBN-13 978-0-9787919-2-2, ISBN-10 0-9787919-2-4), which features NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen and THE MYSTERY OF UDOLPHO by Ann Radcliffe, among others. How they manage to condense a full novel down to forty pages or so is perhaps something I do not want to see--even CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED had more pages than that, I think--but I am still curious.
Of course, a large part of the attraction of both Lovecraft and Twain is their language, and what the graphic form often does is to sacrifice some of the text for pictures. As such, it's more comparable to a film made from the story, rather than the story itself.
Oddly, the Lovecraft volume is catalogued as fiction, but the Twain appears to be given Dewey Decimal number 741. I have no idea why, but it is no wonder that books go missing on the shelf. It would not surprise me that someone might end up shelving these two together, and then one becomes unfindable. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It's better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. -- James Grover Thurber
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