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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/27/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 52, Whole Number 1499
Table of Contents
We Were Right All Along! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Aha! New studies prove the scientific accuracy of the Odyssey.
This proves the truth of this great document of faith. This is the scientific truth we can show to the atheists and agnostics out there to prove that there really are gods. All hail mighty Zeus! All hail fleet-footed Hermes! All hail wise Athena! [-mrl]
[In the 05/21/86 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote, "Some of you may have seen a book come out recently called THE JASON VOYAGE that is about some clown who made himself a full-size working replica of Jason's Argo. He followed the same course that he thinks that the mythological Jason did. His book follows in the footsteps of KON-TIKI in which some idiot tried to prove that ancient sailing ships could have made the trim from Peru to Tahiti. Then there was THE RA EXPEDITION, in which someone tries to show that the ancient Egyptians could have sailed to the New World. It goes without saying that substantiating old myths can be highly lucrative. I intend to cash in on this market. I have had a special padded suit and helmet made for myself and I have the first two chapters written on my forthcoming book THE DOROTHY ODYSSEY (watch for it at your local bookstore). I intend to get the material for the remaining chapters next month on my trip to Kansas. Incidentally, if someone out there is going on vacation and would like me to take care of their small dog while they are going, I am looking for a small dog that I can use in my researches."
And in the 01/04/02 issue, he wrote, "Coming in February: Homer's THE HOMECOMING. For the many avid fans of Homer, the wait is over. Homer has finally completed the third book in the Odysseus Saga. Odysseus has fought, he has wandered, but sometimes greatest challenges can be found at home. Read Homer's THE HOMECOMING from Penguin Classics." -mrl]
The United States' Best Kept Travel Secret (part 4) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"Acre for acre, the canyon lands of Utah are the most spectacular in the world." Stewart Udall, Secretaty of the Interior and Park supporter, 1964
Concluding this trip account was our last National Park in Moab, Utah; our last park was Canyonlands National Park. Again, this is at the top of a canyon looking down much like Dead Horse Point. Of the five parks this one is the closest to being like Grand Canyon. Here the Colorado River has ripped though a table of land exposing layer upon layer of sediment like it had cut through a layer cake. So you have relatively flat ground with buttes and mesas in the background and deep trenches cut in it by the river and the weather.
I had talked about the diversity before, but this admittedly looks somewhat like the view from Dead Horse Point. The park has several of these overlooks. The river ripped a T-shaped scar. It divides the park into three pieces known as Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze. Last trip we saw Needles. That has more spires and needles. A mesa has a flat top and is wider than it is high, a butte is flat topped but it is narrower in some direction than it is high. Usually it was a mesa at one time and the sides wore down. If they wear further it is a spire or a needle. When that wears away there is nothing left. This picture shows some needles of Needles.
But since in Island in the Sky we were looking at overlooks most of the rock formations were at some distance. They are still beautiful, but it is nicer to be close to the rock faces as were in Zion. Still the 1500-foot cliffs were impressive and there is over 100 miles of canyon cut from the rock.
We left the park, returned to Moab for lunch. And then went off to see a museum of the films shot in Moab. We took a public road, Route 128, and unlike the park there was no admission price. But the road was impressive enough to be a National Park all by itself. The road is just a few feet above the river. The road winds back and forth following the rock face. This was an unexpected pleasure and it looked very different in each direction. That was a combination of seeing the colors at a different time of day and seeing them from a different angle.
Not surprisingly with their dramatic scenery, Moab and Monument Valley has been a favorite shooting locale for filmmakers. The scenery may look familiar from CHEYENNE AUTUMN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, THELMA AND LOUISE, and a lot more that were filmed wholly or in part in Moab.
That was it for the planned trip, but not all for the scenery. Saturday the trip back to Scottsdale took us though Monument Valley. Again the spectacular scenery was just there off the public road. Anybody who is a fan of old Western movies will recognize much of Monument Valley. Many Westerns were shot there. Especially those film of John Ford from STAGECOACH on use and reuse the scenery of Monument Valley.
I have to say that the photography does not capture the grandeur of the scenery well. In a photo everything looks closer and smaller than it really is. These are Godzilla-sided features and they look like just the oddly shaped hill out back.
I guess the point of this series of articles is to give something of the feel of the Canyon Country of southern Utah. But it is also to point out that we in this country really do not seem know what a treasure we have in these parks. When we were walking around Zion, about two-thirds of the voices we heard were in English and one-third in foreign languages. A high proportion of the visitors to these sites comes from other countries. They probably have seen these sites as background for films and wanted to see the real thing. My mother commented that she lived for about three decades in California, not all that far from Utah. People talked about other travel destinations, but southern Utah was rarely if ever mentioned. I have been a lot of places around the world, and I can think of none that I have seen that beat southern Utah for sheer natural spectacle. I cannot imagine that anyone who sees it can come away not thinking it was at the very least worth the trip. I hope somebody comes away from this quick account with the feeling of my-gosh-I-had-no-idea-what-it-was- like. And let me assure you that even now, if you have not been there, you still have no idea.
Incidentally, I took the easy-cheesy way out of showing the sites. I just looked for web photos publicly available on the Internet and linked to them. I want to thank the various providers of those images for sharing their experience and allowing me to point out the images to people. [-mrl]
Cataloguing (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For most libraries and most books, I have had reasonable success in going to where I expect the book to be and finding it. Partly this is because several years of working in libraries left me with a good sense of the Dewey Decimal System, but a lot of it is the notion that book cataloging follows some standards.
The problem is that in my area now, book cataloguing follows far too many standards. Take as an example THE NEW WEIRD edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.
Four libraries in my library system have the book. One library catalogues it as "813 V Paper", one as "SS [Short Stories] NEW", one as "SF NEW", and one as "FIC NEW". And the "NEW" in the last three does not mean that it is shelved with the new books; it means that it is alphabetized in its category under its title, not its editor. There is a separate notation if it is filed with the new books rather than on the regular shelves.
I have commented before on the fact that my own town's library has some paperback fiction, mystery, science fiction filed in separate paperback sections, but also has some inter-filed with the hardbacks. And some anthologies are filed under the title and some under the editor. The result is having to check in as many as *eight* places to find a book: Is it fiction or science fiction? Under the title or editor? With the new books or on the regular shelves? And all this is assuming that they have not put it on a special display shelf somewhere. [-ecl]
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The Army created but cannot control Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Banner's anger has the power to turn him into a bouncing ten-foot monster as hard as rock. Edward Norton (who plays Banner) is one of the finest actors of his generation. This may not be the best film for him, but he is an asset to the film. THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a darker and grimmer superhero film with a more tragic hero than we have seen of late from the Marvel films. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
[Following the main text there is a minor spoiler on some points that did not work for me.]
Within weeks of each other we have seen at theaters two Marvel Comics superhero films. While they also stand alone, they are really chapters in a longer story whose arc has yet to be revealed. IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK are both good as superhero films go. The public seems to prefer IRON MAN, which I reviewed previously and gave a high +1 on the -4 to +4 bell-curve scale. THE INCREDIBLE HULK gets the same rating, but of the two I give the edge to THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Why do I prefer this film? First, I am never likely to meet a playboy arms dealer like Tony Stark. Do I doubt that such a person drives around war zones drinking cocktails? Let us say I am unconvinced. Perhaps characters like this exist in the real world, perhaps not. On the other hand I can well believe that there are people living in the slums of Brazil coming to terms with personal problems like anger. Do I believe that when they become enraged they grow to twice their scale, turn the color of avocados, and adopt a doors- optional policy for getting around? Perhaps they do in their imaginations. For me that is not a big stretch. And do these people become so possessed by their rage that they become supremely violent? You bet they do. For me Bruce Banner (The Hulk) is a much more believable main character than is Tony Stark. He is a man of very common emotions, simply exaggerated. Needing the violent outlet while detesting it is very real. Iron Man being kidnapped and forced to develop missiles is not quite as real and certainly less primal.
The plot of THE INCREDIBLE HULK can be summed up in two or three sentences. In the Ang Lee THE HULK the military used super- science to turn Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into an awesome fighting man. When he gets mad enough to fight he becomes a ten- foot-tall monster. After the early transformations he did some really bad things (only hinted at for those who have not read the comic or seen THE HULK). Banner ran away and is now hiding out in the crowded slums of Brazil trying to learn to manage the world's deadliest rage. To keep busy he corresponds electronically with an enigmatic friend whom he knows only by the code name Mr. Blue. The army, personified by General Ross (William Hurt), has tracked him down and sends a special commando, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to capture him. Well, we know how well that will work. And admittedly here and elsewhere there are few real surprises in the film. Banner evades capture and works his way back north to an East Coast school, Culver University. At this school is his girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and the scientist Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson). (There are also quaint bicycle-stands labeled "City of Toronto".) There he will find the ultimate confrontation--or at least the biggest in the film.
Marvel films seem to be developing their own style that continues from film to film. We have the cameo for Stan Lee. This time he is not at the end of a garden hose as he was in the last X-Men movie, and he is not at the end of a conversation as he was in IRON MAN. This time he is the end. More specifically he is a very much a loose end in the plot. I waited in vain for the plot to explain what happened to his character, but if it was there I missed it. Also there is a certain inexorable predictability in the plotting. There is segregation of each to his own type. What does a man in a power-suit fight in the climactic battle? He is matched against a man in a bigger and more mighty power- suit. What does a hulk fight in the climactic scene? It has to be a bigger meaner hulk. Another element of the Marvel style in recent films to have a final scene at the end of the credits. It has some unexpected twist to reward those audience members who stay through the credits. X-MEN 2 had such a scene, as did IRON MAN. Here the scene is moved to the beginning rather than the end of the credits. It looks like someone in production decided that too many people were missing what could be a pivotal teaser scene. Stan Lee is not the only in-joke casting. We get to see/hear Lou Ferrigno as both the voice of the Hulk and as a minor character. There are cute allusions to Godzilla movies, to King Kong, and even to Tiananmen Square.
Edward Norton acts with a low-key style. I am not sure he conveys the angst as much as was needed, but his persona is a nice counterpoint to the thrashing monster he becomes. The most memorable acting in the film is from Tim Blake Nelson, whose boyish glee for studying the Hulk makes him one of the most likeable mad scientists in recent film history. Nelson, some of the realistic settings, the tragedy of the main character, and the dark style make this a better than average Marvel superhero film. For my money it is also better than the very recent IRON MAN. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0800080/
Minor spoiler warning:
I did have a few problems with the script. At one point after a blackout spell Banner asks a stranger, "where am I?" The stranger responds, "In Guatemala." If a stranger asked you where he was, would you say "the United States"? My wife wanted to know how Banner had managed to cross the Panama Canal without anyone noticing how really big and green he was. Perhaps he had switched back to Banner. After all, the rules of this particular mutation are unclear. There is a nice tender King-Kong-Anne- Darrow sort of scene in which he is Hulked, but does not seem to have been angry for hours. Why is he still engorged?
If someone about 160 pounds actually threw a helicopter, it is the human who would do most of the flying according to the laws of physics. You learn to ignore the fact that he would have to be a lot more massive as the Hulk than he is as Banner. It is therefore probably bad form to show an examination table that held Banner perfectly well moments before but crushes under the massive weight of Hulk. It rubs our noses in the fact that Banner's mutation circumvents conservation of mass. [-mrl]
THE LAST COLONY by John Scalzi (copyright 2007, Tor, $23.95, 320pp, ISBN-13 978-0-7653-1697-4, ISBN-10 0-7653-1697-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, now we come upon a book that's an example of good storytelling. John Scalzi's THE LAST COLONY is the final book in his Old Man's War trilogy, and it is a satisfying end to the story.
OLD MAN'S WAR followed the story of John Perry, member of the Colonial Defense Forces. We learned about how members of the CDF are recruited, the fact that there are a bunch of hostile races out in the galaxy, and that the CDF is there to protect humanity.
In THE GHOST BRIGADES, we followed the story of Jane Sagan, member of the Special Forces, an elite group of troops who are cloned and grown and are extensively augmented to handle more tough and unusual assignments. In THE GHOST BRIGADES, we follow the Special Forces as they try to track down a traitor to humanity and stop him before he gets too far with his plan.
In THE LAST COLONY, Scalzi brings the two together, along with their adopted daughter Zoe (whose real father was the aforementioned traitor in the previous book), as they are recruited to lead a brand new colony that is being formed in defiance of the orders of the Conclave, a conglomerate of alien races that has banded together to stop colonization by any race that is not a member of the Conclave.
John and Jane are already firmly settled into another colony after their careers as soldiers have come to an end. They're not sure they want to go, but they are convinced by old friends and superior officers, and away they go to the colony planet of Roanoke. And the minute they arrive, it becomes apparent that they were being misled, and in fact the whole story is a cover for an elaborate Colonial Union plot to weaken and destroy the Conclave.
This is really a very entertaining story as we follow along with John and Jane as they try to figure out what the real story is and how to work it to their advantage as well as save the colony of Roanoke from destruction by the Conclave. We meet lots of old friends from the previous novels and the intriguing and honorable leader of the Conclave, who to me comes across as a much more straightforward and honest guy than the leaders of the CU and CDF as they try to destroy the Conclave in a way that deceives their own colonists and puts them in danger of being destroyed.
So, the question is whether this is actually worthy of a Hugo Award. I honestly don't know. I liked the book immensely, and given the field it's in it might stand a chance. But I don't think it stacks up to past Hugo-winning novels.
A good read and a good and entertaining story. You'll enjoy it. [-jak]
Dalton Trumbo (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's review of TRUMBO in the 06/13/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
"The story of Dalton Trumbo's career is told, based on the play of the same name by Dalton's son, Christopher Trumbo." Ouch! This immediately screams hagiography. I cannot imagine a more unreliable source.
Dalton Trumbo had "character" only if character means being a slavish follower of the Stalinist party line. When Hitler and Stalin made their famous pact, the Communist Party of the United States was ordered to do pro-Nazi propaganda. Party members who really had character broke with the party at that time. But Trumbo stayed, and obeyed.
In THE REMARKABLE ANDREW (1941), he brought back the ghost of Andrew Jackson to warn America not to help the treacherous British, who were standing alone against Hitler at the time. His anti-war novel, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, was actually being serialized in the Communist Daily Worker--at the moment Hitler betrayed his "fraternal socialist ally" and Trumbo turned from pacifist to war hawk overnight. He withdrew the book from publication, and when people wrote him asking for it he denounced them to the FBI.
The rest of the Hollywood Ten were also following orders, when they refused to admit their membership in the Party. The CPUSA was not a political party in the ordinary sense, but rather (as we now know) an agency of the Soviet Union for espionage, propaganda, and sabotage, so Congress had very good reasons to ask questions about it.
With delicious irony, during the recent strike, the screenwriters threatened to blacklist anybody who crossed a picket line. As a result, for months no actors dared appear on the Jay Leno show. (But Leno beat Letterman in the ratings anyway.) [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I had started HALTING STATE by Charles Stross (ISBN-13 978-0-441-01607-5, ISBN-10 0-441-01607-3) earlier this year and gave it up as too difficult (the introduction of too many characters in rapid succession, too much jargon, etc.). But I read a review that said that after a somewhat confusing beginning, the book settled into a more understandable form. So I tried again, and read about a third before I concluded than it wasn't true for me. Stross has written a book with three point- of-view characters, and written it in the second person. Yes, that's right--in every chapter, the point-of-view character is "you", but you are a different person each time. One result is that you lose many of the reminders of who the point-of-view character is that you would have in a normal third-person narrative. (Even a first-person version might be easier.) And on top of that, the characters write in a combination of Scottish dialect, police jargon, and computer jargon. It is even worse than BRASYL in terms of the dialects, because there is no glossary at the back. (I checked this time.) It may be good for Scottish computer types, but not for me.
Joe Karpierz is doing his annual reviews of Hugo-nominated novels, so I suppose I will do the reviews for the short fiction. (I am attending this year [in Denver] and next [in Montreal]. However, unless a last-minute entry edges out Australia in 2010, I will be skipping that year as well.)
I will start with the short stories this week, and continue with the novelettes and novellas next week.
"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (THE SOLARIS BOOK OF NEW SCIENCE FICTION) is a sort of classic British disaster story, with the disaster coming from cutting-edge physics rather than something like a plague or a meteor collision. The problem is that there seemed to be far more British "stiff-upper-lip-ism" and far less chaos than one would expect these days.
I found "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (ASIMOV'S Jun) a fairly bland post-holocaust story about a post-war robot and a boy. Maybe it was supposed to be touching or something, but it did nothing for me.
"Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (THE NEW SPACE OPERA): I assume that the title is a reference to the "Outer Limits" episode "Wolf 359" (which was also referenced in "Star Trek" in the episodes "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" ["The Next Generation"] and "Emissary" ["Deep Space 9"]), but MacLeod's story has no other apparent connection to that episode.
[Would a reference to Altair necessarily be an allusion to FORBIDDEN PLANET? Wikipedia says "Wolf 359 is a star located approximately 2.4 parsecs or 7.7 light years from Earth. It is one of the nearest stars; only the Alpha Centauri system and Barnard's star are known to be closer." -mrl]
Judith Berman has bemoaned the change in science fiction from a focus on the future to a focus on the present, or even the past. "Distant Replay" by Mike Resnick (ASIMOV'S Apr/May) is an example of this, as indeed are many of Resnick's recent stories. In "Replay" an old man meets a young woman who looks, acts, thinks, and even smells like his late wife--but as she was decades earlier. This sort of sentimental story appears to be popular with the Hugo voters--both Resnick and Connie Willis have a long string of nominations and wins for this sort of thing--but I think I prefer my science fiction more, well, science fictional.
"A Small Room in Koboldtown" by Michael Swanwick (ASIMOV'S Apr/May) is basically "CSI: Supernatural", and the solution turns on something supernatural that the reader cannot possibly be expected to know, so while the "CSI" element is kind of cute, the ending doesn't work for me. On the other hand, the setting is at least interesting, and farnkly, its competition is not very strong.
My ballot order: "A Small Room in Koboldtown", "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?", no award, "Distant Replay", "Last Contact", and "Tideline". [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Of all the communities available to us there is not one that I would devote myself to, except for the society of true searchers, which has very few living members at any time. -- Albert Einstein, 1949
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