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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/10/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 15, Whole Number 1514
Table of Contents
Readers might enjoy reading these "selections from H. P. Lovecraft's brief tenure as a Whitman's Sampler copywriter":
How You Look at It (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
AT&T's new ad slogan is "more bars in more places." I would have expected that slogan from Seagrams. [-mrl]
More on Product Placements on Films and Television (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was discussing the proliferation of product placements in film and television. The upcoming Bond film will be in part ads for Ford, Omega, Sony, Virgin Atlantic, Heineken, Coca-Cola, and Smirnoff.
The FCC is still fighting the good (and losing) fight to stop people from cluttering our lives with ads, at least in movies and television. In June they were examining a proposal that sponsors who pay to embed placements in TV should not have their presence announced at the beginning and end of the program in large letters. In 2007 alone product placement spending rose to $2.9 billion, a 33.7% increase. Why is it jumping so much? People watching commercial television have more and more powerful tools to skip separate commercials, but if one skips a product placement one is skipping part of the actual program. It does not have a message, but it is inextricably tied to the program itself.
But putting announcements at the beginning or end of a program means that people watching on video and digital recorders will probably skip it. Writers and actors are complaining that they want the artistic freedom not to incorporate advertising into their work or at least to be paid a cut of the profits. And they are also saying that placement disclosures at the beginning or the end of the program just means the disclosures will not be seen. They want the disclosure to crawl across the screen at the time of the product placement. The advertising industry has pointed out that if you think that a product placement is disruptive now you wait until you see those disclosures crawling across the screen as they happen. But more likely sponsors will not want their products placed into stories if they are going to have to instantly announce them. This would condition viewers to hate their product. On the other hand who knows? Sometimes advertising that is irritating gets noticed and is more effective. (Some of you will probably remember the phrase "Ring Around the Collar.") And the above rules might not apply to commercial television.
The Walt Disney Company is considering the possibility of moving the Disney Channel to free broadcast. Then they will go right on with advertising and product placements. So much for wholesome entertainment. They make far more money from advertising than they make from Disney Channel subscriptions. And they probably figure besides, how badly will their movies be hurt? It's just kids' shows anyway, right?
Well, advertising is one industry in which the United States aggressively leads the world--not that some other countries do not try the under-handed now and then. Terry Pratchett found out that at least one of his books acquired a plug for soup bullion in its translation form English to German. In the middle the characters sat down for a bowl of a particular soup. Pratchett asked for guarantees that the publisher would not do that again to his books. The publisher refused to promise and so he changed publishers.
I think that the advertising industry goes around searching for blank spaces where they can put ads. Motel room keys used to be standard metal keys. Today they are computer-encoded cards and as long as there was some white space on them, they have ads for specific brands of soda and pizza. How long is it going to be before you go to sleep to ads projected onto your bedroom ceiling? Why does this all remind me of Frederic Pohl's and C.M. Kornbluth's future world in THE SPACE MERCHANTS?
[Postscript: After I wrote this I saw a news story that in Las Vegas Fox TV news commentators have iced coffee cups on their desks within camera range. The cups have the brand name perfectly centered to get attention. And the cups never change from day to day. The level of coffee is always the same and the ice never melts. That is because the cups are totally fake. They are plastic mock-ups of McDonald's iced coffee. They are a deception by Fox News who apparently do not expect their audience would ever question their integrity.] [-mrl]
ACE IN THE HOLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: ACE IN THE HOLE from 1951 is Billy Wilder's take on human selfishness and callousness makes for one of the most angry and cynical films ever made. Kirk Douglas stars as a newsman who manipulates people to develop an unfortunate accident into a national news story at the expense of all who cross his path. There is a lot of bitterness and a lot of truth in this film. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Billy Wilder was one of our great directors of film noir going back to 1944's DOUBLE INDEMNITY. His trademark evolved to a combination of human comedy and cynicism. These days he may be best known for lighter comedy films like SOME LIKE IT HOT, but he was transitioning in the early 1950s. At that time his films, such as SUNSET BLVD, were heavier on the dark themes and lighter on the comedy. Later films like THE FORTUNE COOKIE had less social message and more comedy. For my taste the darker and grittier films are his best. My choice for his number one film (yes, better than SOME LIKE IT HOT) is ACE IN THE HOLE. This may be his most biting look at humanity. The film was a failure on its first release in 1951. It was later re-released as THE BIG CARNIVAL (which is the title it played under on television as well), and again it flopped. But today it is respected as one of Wilder's best.
The film was a formidable convergence of Wilder and Kirk Douglas, who himself made several razor-sharp, bitter films in the early Fifties. This was only his second of those films, the first being CHAMPION. Here Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a former big-city reporter who has been fired from eleven of the biggest newspapers in the country mostly for drinking and philandering. Now his car has broken down in Albuquerque and he is forced to get a job on a tiny local newspaper. He is keeping an eye open for a story he can ride back to a big time newspaper, but after a year that eye is a little bleary. The magic story seems never to come along. Then on his way to cover a rattlesnake hunt he stops at an isolated gas station and finds the owner has been in a cave collapse in the rock cliff Indian burial ground behind the little gas station/lunch-bar. Tatum sees his chance to make this a national news story with real human interest in the victim and his rescue. All he needs is to get some local cooperation. And Tatum knows exactly how to play everyone from local officials to roadside gawkers. As he works the movie audience gets a course in how the media manipulates local officials and their own readership.
As the rescue attempts become a national news sensation, Tatum knows just how to play the locals, the big city reporters, and the victim's less than grieving wife. She is not sure if she wants out or Tatum. But Tatum's biggest love is Tatum.
This is not a film for the timid. The view is one of humanity rushing in to take advantage of the accident with so little regard for the victim. They have little more concern for man at the center of the misfortune as insects do as they crawl over a carcass. Tourists argue over who was the first to arrive at the accident site. Trains leave off visitors who run to the quickly assembled traveling carnival with its Ferris wheel and cotton candy.
Wilder's writing is dark and funny. Douglas's dialog is sharp and pulls no punches:
Tatum: Mr. Boot, I was passing through Albuquerque; had breakfast
here. I read your paper and thought you might be interested in my
Boot: Indeed I am.
Tatum: Well, to be honest, it made me throw up. I don't mean to tell you I was expecting the New York Times, but even for Albuquerque, this is pretty Albuquerque.
Boot: Alright, here's your nickel back.
Tatum takes an almost sexual pleasure in telling one of the older writers on the newspaper how he could build her murder into a great news story. "I could do wonders with your dismembered body," he says purring like a big cat.
Seeing this film is a strong affecting experience. I rate it a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0043338/
Smothers Brothers Comedy Album: The Best of Season 3 (DVD review by Mark R. Leeper):
1968 was perhaps the most dramatic year of the 20th Century. The United States was deeply embroiled in the war in Viet Nam. There was a strong protest movement at home, but almost none of the protest was shown in the entertainment media. NASA was getting ready to land a man on the moon to fulfill a mission given it by a President who was assassinated five years earlier. But the memory of assassination was still strong, having been refreshed by two more assassinations, those of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. 1967 had been the summer of love and the generation of the hippies was still going strong. Young people were still painting themselves, talking about the grooviness of love--especially the free kind--and of flowers. The Beatles were extolling the virtues of psychedelic drugs and their music mingled with that from other groups who followed suit. In the spring of that year the USSR had suppressed its dissidents in Czechoslovakia and in the fall the United States had suppressed its dissidents in Chicago. I went from being the high school senior who never dated to being the college freshman, deeply in love with the same woman I am in love with today. The TV news did not see itself as a profitable entertainment medium in those days, so the entertainment media saw itself as an escape from just about all that was happening that was momentous.
There was one exception to all this high-powered silence. On television there was one network TV show that still was trying to comment on the world and give its unapologetically liberal, non- evenhanded message. The program was the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour". This would run Sunday night opposite the western "Bonanza". I will be honest. I was not a fan. First I did not find the comedy team particularly funny. Their jokes always played the same note. Tom always played a frustrated child in a man's body and his brother always played a bemused straight man. If there was more than just vague interest, it was for the viewer to decide how much of Dick's reprimanding Tom was part of the act and how much was sincere. They had good singing voices, and they combined good folk singing with heir monotonous humor.
But what this show offered is that it actually said something. The Smothers freely pushed their liberal agenda and challenged power in the United States. And they got their share of licks for it. They program was heavily censored by the network and eventually cancelled. It is not that their political satire was all that powerful. Certainly it does not seem that way from the vantage point of a year when a "Saturday Night Live" routine became the subject of national debate. But in the three years that the program was on under constant threat of cancellation, they were the only game in town. Seen from 2008 their humor seems mild, as Tommy Smothers points out in a surprisingly self-deprecating prolog, but for 1968 and 1969 it was amazing what they got away with. Because I remember the political situation of the late 1960s this material is for me more impressive today than it was when it was first broadcast. The Smothers Brothers were determined to push the then limits of what was being shown on television. They talked about minority relations, war, and even got some sexual material past the censors. They also kidded the network about its censorship. CBS was probably the most liberal of the three commercial networks, but in those days the Smothers Brothers' kidding was beyond the limits of what the network was willing to tolerate. Each episode shows the telltale jumps and scars of censorship cutting. Within weeks the show would be completely cancelled, not for ratings--it was in the top twenty programs on television--but because the show was going too far to often in the opinion of the network. The battle with CBS is documented with actual memos in the bonus material.
The political humor is still fairly impressive. What is not political was not really funny for me in the 1960s and it is less so today. Just as the comedy they did in the 1960s was not my cup of tea, their music was not the kind I liked at that time either. My taste ran more to classical music. What I am finding surprising is how enjoyable their musical interludes are. This was a time when melody was very important in most popular music. Singers like Donavon, Dion, Judy Collins, and even Mama Cass Elliot did very listenable songs with lyrical melodies. Much of this music has become classic.
Not all of their artistic decisions make sense. They included a short film about the National Hot Rod Association that I certainly could have done without. But there are plenty of chapter stops. If something less interesting is on, one can always hit "Next" on their remote. There is also something amazing about seeing comedians like George Carlin, Steve Martin, and Bob Newhart as they were when they were at the beginnings of their careers when they still were young.
For reasons known best to themselves Time/Life is releasing the three seasons of the program in reverse order. They have started with season 3, will go on to season 2 and then will release season 1. Not all of the broadcast episodes are in the package. As the title suggests, these are what the Smothers Brothers consider their best material. Before and after each episode there is a commentary on the episode by the two brothers and perhaps some of the guests from the episode. There is a lot of additional supporting material including more interviews and candid shots of rehearsals.
This time capsule of the late 1960s is a lot of fun, some of it edifying, and quite worth the effort to find. [-mrl]
Clarification On Palin and Saturday Night Live (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In my comments on "Saturday Night Live" in the 10/03/08 issue of the MT VOID, I did not make myself clear on comedy routines and Sarah Palin and I got some negative mail. It was suggested that I was against satire. I certainly am not. I was told that the comedy routine was relevant to the discussion because it was so spot-on like Palin. I still disagree with that that makes the Fey routine relevant. Let me devote a little more prose to this question. I may have to overstate this to explain what was mostly an off-hand comment. I have heard several people saying that the Fey routine sums up what they don't like about Palin. But I think the comedy routine is an irrelevancy. If I put the names "Tina Fey" and "Sarah Palin" in news.google.com it finds 7680 news articles that link their names. In vanilla google.com it is 1,360,000 sites that link the names.
Back in 1962 a satirist named Vaughn Meader recorded a comedy album in which he did his impressions of John F. Kennedy. One of the routines had Kennedy asked now that we had a Catholic President, how soon could we expect a Jewish President? Meader/Kennedy responded with standard democratic boilerplate that anybody could become President; religion was no longer an obstacle, etc. etc. But then finishes up his long speech with a parenthetical "Of course, being Catholic I couldn't vote for him." It was a funny bit and a lot of people quoted it. But when they were discussing Kennedy himself it *never* came up that I can remember. Nobody that I heard said that there was a lot of truth in comedy sketch. At least they did not in the political debate. Kennedy was judged by what he himself did and said.
I am not a big fan of Sarah Palin. And I think she has looked pretty bad in front of a camera. But I will give her this. She should be judged for who she is and what she has done, not by what some impressionist did in a comedy routine. It is fine to laugh at "Saturday Night Live", but it then should be quickly forgotten. Instead it keeps coming up in more serious discussions. In serious discussion if Tina Fey has been an accurate imitation show me those scenes of Palin being herself, not Fey being like Palin.
[Postscript: After writing this I watched "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation," which I do every week to get some hard news. On "Meet the Press" they had an excerpt of the "Saturday Night Live" routine from the previous evening. On "Face the Nation" it was limited to Rep. Roy Blunt thinking it important enough to tell a national audience that, "Tina Fey does a great job talking out this 'maverick' term." By coincidence later in the program Bob Schieffer bemoaned, "Our politics has been dumbed down so low that many Americans no longer take seriously anything our leaders say." You said it better than I could, Bob.] [-mrl]
Saturday Night Live and Tina Fey (letters of comment by Dan Kimmel, Susan de Guardiola, John Sloan, and Jerry Ryan):
We had *many* letters in response to Mark's comments on "Saturday Night Live" and Tina Fey in the 10/03/08 issue of the MT VOID. See Mark's clarification above as well as his comments here.
Dan Kimmel writes:
Mark is right, of course, that we should not select our presidents (or other elected officials) based on a comedy sketch, but that rather misses the point. The reason that Tina Fey's dead-on portrayal of Sarah Palin is resonating is because it encapsulates the utter cynicism of John McCain's selection of her. Palin is so out of her depth that she's essentially in protective custody to keep her from repeating her terrible interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS. Indeed Jon Stewart (another comic who has become essential viewing for political junkies) did a piece on "The Daily Show" where he played clips side by side of Palin seriously answering a question and Fey repeating her answer almost verbatim to huge laughs precisely because the answer was little more than word soup. That she delivered her rehearsed sound bites at the debate last night with a wink and a smile isn't fooling anyone except those who want to be fooled.
With much of the media doing such a terrible job in reporting the news (and it's not the imaginary "liberal bias" I'm referring to), it's left to the comedians to point out the truth. Stewart, Fey, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher -- and their writers -- are, in fact, speaking truth to power but wrapping it up with jokes. They are as important in their way as, for example, cartoonist Thomas Nast was in helping to expose and bring down "Boss" Tweed and Tammany Hall.
Tina Fey's sketches on Palin are as much a legitimate part of the debate as an op-ed column or a roundtable of pundits. [-dk]
By bringing Fey's routine into the argument the people weaken it. Whether the impression is as accurate as you claim or not becomes part of the contention. How certain are you that a good comedian could not make an impression of you look like an idiot? I am just saying we should be talking about Sarah Palin herself and her actions. Bringing in Fey's impression only clouds the issue.
Interesting that you should call the liberal bias of the media "imaginary." I consider myself a liberal; I vote liberal; but I am honest enough to say that I think there is a definite liberal bias in the media. I have felt it for years. It was just a feeling for a while until I saw a way to put a metric on it. I did find a way to actually get statistical evidence of this bias I was seeing. In fact it is not hard to find. I have written about it in the VOID before. For a long time I have made a sort of mental statistical tally and discussed the results with Evelyn. The tally is definitely in the favor of liberal bias. The article, a little dated, can be found at http://www.geocities.com/markleeper/leeperprinciple.html.
This method gives good statistical evidence that the bias is real. If you have a good convincing method for showing the bias is imaginary, I would be happy to see and consider it.
The thing is that we are so used to the biases of the media we do not notice them. As the saying goes "we don't know who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish." [-mrl]
Susan de Guardiola writes:
On the SNL issue, I think the politically meaningful element is that Fey was able to use sections of Palin's responses to Katie Couric word for word; they made so little sense they work equally well as a comedy routine as they do as serious responses to questions. I personally find that more than a little alarming; I don't need all politicians to be brilliant orators, but an ability to form coherent thoughts and sentences seems like an important basic skill. [-sdg]
I think bringing Fey's routine in the argument only muddies the issue. Are you sure that Obama's words taken out of context and delivered by a good comedian might not come out equally funny? And if so the test is invalid. One can easily enough point out that Palin is incoherent and unprepared without mentioning Fey. The fact that a comedian can make a candidate's words sound funny may not be a reliable test, but saying that one cannot follow what Palin is trying to say is a good argument. [-mrl]
John Sloan writes:
I'm a little surprised to hear these words coming from you, Mark. When has political satire not been a part of the national political debate? When have political parties not used political satire as a strategic weapon? When have political pundits not used political satire to clarify and promote their positions on the issues through the use of humor and visual and written caricature? In a way it's self defining: the SNL skit is important because people on both sides of the issue think its important. [-jls]
I have a response to this in this issue.
I was not suggesting we eliminate satire. Satire should be used to highlight issues. That is what it is for.
I am saying that the fact that Tina Fey makes Palin sound ridiculous is not for me a convincing argument. People should be able to make up their minds about Palin based upon what Palin actually said, not how she was imitated in a comedy sketch. I don't like Palin but I don't think she should be judged by somebody else's joke. I think that Palin's incoherence is a bad sign, but I am amazed how many people cannot come out and say that without mentioning Tina Fey. Satire can make points about Palin, but she should be judged by the content of her record rather than by what jokes she inspires. [-mrl]
Jerry Ryan writes:
On the subject of "Saturday Night Live" being part of the politics of the time... You can leave aside that Palin and Fay look amazingly alike, and that Fay has a note-perfect impression of Palin down pat. That's just good entertainment.
I think the reason that it's getting such national attention is that there has been so little press exposure of Palin. Furthermore, the interesting point is that the script for the second SNL sketch was basically Palin's words from the Couric interview, unchanged and unadorned.
Of course, I have a strong political bias in this race--I've donated to a Presidential campaign for the first time in my life-- and I suspect that someone on the other side of the aisle will not find this as funny or attention-grabbing as I did! [-gwr]
Robert Sawyer and Product Placement (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola):
On Robert Sawyer, [Joe] and I disagree on his merits as a writer, though I can see how his ideas would perhaps appeal to me more in short stories than in novels. But I'm curious that given your discussion of product placement in movies you don't mention it in context of Sawyer's recent Hugo nominated-novel, which was so littered with plugs for the Atkins Diet that I wondered if they'd contributed to his advance. I found this very intrusive and it contributed to my dislike of the book. [-sdg]
[Susan's blog can be found at http://www.rixosous.com.]
Mark answers, "I did not read Sawyer's novel, nor did I make any comments about Sawyer. I believer what you refer to is Joe Karpierez's review of a Sawyer novel." [-mrl]
Product Placement and Peplum (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
In response to Mark's comments on product placement in the 10/03/08 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph Major writes:
Editorial Written ... The example that comes to mind of explicit product placement is LOVE HAPPY (1950), the Marx Brothers movie with Marilyn Monroe. (She only appears in one scene, but the image of her in Groucho's clutch is priceless.)
At the end of the movie, Harpo is fleeing from the bad guys over a rooftop. He escapes using several billboards; one of the most noticeable being a Mobil billboard with a flying horse, "moving" through the use of multiple images and neon lights--and Harpo moves with it.
The movie ran into financial troubles at the end and the producers (Lester Cowan and Mary Pickford) sold advertising.
And in response to Mark's comments on peplum in the 09/26/08 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph writes:
I'm surprised no one mentioned THE SONS OF HERCULES, which was a bunch of those Maciste movies repackaged for syndication in the sixties. It didn't take a lot to entertain us in those days. [-jtm]
Product Placement and Politics (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's comments on product placement in the 10/03/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
In the SF world, Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) is particularly rich in product or trademark placements. They were all appropriate to the story and added to the verisimilitude, back then. Forty years on, though, they have a campy, ironic air, given that several of the corporations did not survive until the real year 2001.
Then again, in the alternate universe in which we had giant bases on the Moon in 2001, maybe Pan Am is the spaceline of choice.
One of the best trademark placements of recent years is in THE LAST MIMZY (2007), loosely based on "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (1943) by Kuttner and Moore. It's too good a joke to give away here, though!
P.S.: Remember that the Senate usually needs the cooperation of both parties to move business forward. When the Democrats were in the minority, they used the threat of filibusters to prevent the Senate from strengthening oversight of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, which have been described as piggy banks for Democratic special interest groups. Perhaps not coincidentally, the top four recipients of campaign contributions from those corporations, over the last 20 years, were Sens. Dodd, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton. See http://tinyurl.com/5w38tk. [-tw]
I don't really remember the product placement in MIMZY. A quick check of the Internet tells me what it was but not why it was so good.
I like your postscript. You are saying that even with all the advantages that the Republicans had in all three branches of government and the ability to appoint the country's chief financial officers, it was the Democrats who got us in the mess. Also I have to remember the phrase "which have been described as..." That one could be useful. In other words, I take it, *you* are not making the accusation. No, it was somebody else. And the somebody is unnamed. But, yes, the accusation has been made and is hanging around in the air somewhere. You are just passing along what you heard. Thanks for the heads-up on the accusation. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
SIDEWAYS IN CRIME edited by Lou Anders (ISBN-13 978-1-844-16566-7, ISBN-10 1-844-16566-3) is an anthology of (mostly) alternate history mystery stories. As is also true of science fiction mysteries, the biggest problem is reconciling the two, in that the alternate history means that some of what we know and take for granted in our world is not true in the story's world, and yet we are in general expected to be able to pick up clues based on something being out of place. For example, if a clue is the presence of a written note, it is important that we know whether most people can write or not.
But in addition, the author has to come up with both a reasonable alternate history *and* a reasonable mystery, and this is not easy, especially in short story form. The result is often lopsided. For example, "Sacrifice" by Mary Rosenblum has the most interesting alternate history (Aztecs not conquered by Spain). But it is hampered by too much "info-dump" about the alternate history, not to mention bad proof-reading (missing or superfluous commas in particular), and copy-editing--Rosenblum scatters Nahautl words throughout, even when an English word would be just as good, but then refers to a "turkey", surely incorrect in this world. Tobias Buckell's "The People's Machine" is also set in an Aztec-Empire- survives world--this seems to be very popular these days. But Bucknell's story has a conclusion that makes no sense. (I'm not talking about the solution to the crime, but rather to the thoughts of the protagonist at the end.)
Both Kage Baker's "Running the Snake" (Boudicca successful) and Theodore Judson's "The Sultan's Emissary" (no Crusades) show different histories of England, and both run into the same problem: too much the same or similar after centuries. In Baker's case, it's Shakespeare; in Judson's, the entire royal line. Judson also has problems with names such as Abdul Erickson representing someone from a long line of Norse Muslims--but he would be something like Abdul Jafarson then.
John Meaney's "Via Vortex" is a "Nazis won" story, but involving the use of energy vortices for teleportation in what seems like a particularly unlikely and bizarre way. There is far too much "peculiar science" to make this a believable alternate history (at least to me).
Stephen Baxter's "Fate and the Fire-Lance" is yet another of the "history repeats itself across timelines" sub-genre, this time with the son of a (Serbian) Roman Emperor being assassinated in 1914. This story is weakened by the extremely unlikely introduction of a royal tutor, first as translator and then as detective, fully accepted by the police.
Jack McDevitt's "The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk" has someone else publishing the first few Holmes stories that Doyle wrote but could not sell in that world, but the whole thing seemed like a big "so what?"
Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "G-Men" takes us to a change point, but so little forward of it that we have to do all the extrapolation. (I agree with William Mingin when he says in his review of SIDEWAYS IN CRIME in "Strange Horizons": "To my mind, the most pleasing and productive sort of alternate history story gives us a world in which there has been a significant historical disjunction some time in the fairly distant past, so that we find ourselves in a political and cultural reality much different from our own. The stories themselves tend to (but don't have to) occur some time after the hinge event, and also in the 'past,'" relative to our own time."
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's "Chicago" has cloning and memory adjustments in Capone's era without any explanation whatsoever.
Some are not even alternate histories. Pat Cadigan's "Worlds of Possibilities" is a many-worlds story with not much focus on any of them. The same is true of Chris Roberson's "Death on the Crosstime Express". S. M. Stirling's "A Murder in Eddsford" is one of his "Change" stories (the laws of physics change on March 17, 1998, and you can no longer get "a useful amount of mechanical work out of heat." This is way too off-the-wall to even be considered as fantasy, let alone a reasonable alternate history. (At least Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE had a reasonable answer for why everything in that story suddenly changed.)
Paul Park's "The Blood of Peter Francisco" is so dense with cultural referents that I am unable to understand it. The same may well have been true of his "Roumania" trilogy, which everyone seemed to like a lot more than I did. So I will only say that I may be tone-deaf to his appeal, and you should judge it for yourself. (In his review, William Mingin says this is an example of what the "Turkey City Lexicon calls "Card Tricks in the Dark: 'Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punch line of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the author. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the author, but it serves no visible fictional purpose.")
Both "Murder in Geektopia" by Paul Di Filippo and "Conspiracies: A Very Condensed 937-Page Novel" by Mike Resnick and Eric Flint are supposed to be humorous, but I found them both too much interested in constant culture references and other humorous techniques to tell an interesting alternate history story. (Which is not to say it cannot be done--just that they did not do it.)
Of the great Islamic poets, the best known in the West are probably Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and Hafiz. I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that a fair part of Hafiz's fame may be due to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has Sherlock Holmes say, "You may remember the old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world." ["A Case of Identity"] I should note, however, that extensive searches by Holmes scholars have failed to find any such quotation anywhere in Hafiz's writings.
In any case, THE GIFT by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky) (ISBN-13 978-0-140-19581-1, ISBN-10 0-140-19581-5) is an attempt to create a modern translation of Hafiz. However, at times I think Ladinsky gets a bit *too* modern. For example, "The Clay Bowl's Destiny", Ladinsky translates the the last phrase as "In/His sublime,/Ball-busting course/Of/Spirit/Love." (Ladinsky also seems to want to maximize the number of lines, and minimize the number of words per line.) One also finds the word "dropkick" and poems called "The Bag Lady" and "There Could Be Holy Fallout".
A more representative sample of Hafiz might be "The Sun Never Says": "Even/After/All this time/The sun never says to the earth,/You owe/Mr."/Look/What happens/With a love like that,/It lights the/Whole/Sky." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. -- Blaise Pascal
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