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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/28/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 22, Whole Number 1521
Table of Contents
Less Is More? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We gave out some candy bars for Halloween. I notice they are not very big and are labeled by the manufacturer as being "Fun Size." What are they, nuts? I can just imagine one of these kids coming to the door and complaining that if I give him a full-sized candy bar that it is too big and it spoils all the fun. [-mrl]
Amazon Takes a Stand (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You know those hard-to-open bubble-packs that most small electronics come in these days? They are the ones that you risk cutting your own hands to get them open. Amazon has taken a stand that they will no longer send items out in these bubble packs. That is very courageous of them. Of course I do not suppose they have a big shoplifting problem. [-mrl]
Johnson County Wars (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On our first sightseeing visit to Wyoming we passed through Johnson County and saw a statue or a plaque commemorating the Johnson County War. I had heard of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico. That was the fight that made Billy the Kid and his friend and nemesis Pat Garrett famous. The Johnson County War was at that time new to me. I made it a point to learn some more. This year when we visited Wyoming again we did not get to Johnson County but we had a much better idea what was going on when history museums showed us artifacts.
This conflict--it is also called the War on Powder River--was the basis of at least two quite different films. One was the notorious Hollywood flop HEAVEN'S GATE and another was a made-for-TV film simply called THE JOHNSON COUNTY WAR. Neither told the whole interesting story, but now that I know the story I enjoyed both films. HEAVEN'S GATE got a bum rap.
Johnson County is located in central Wyoming where there is good grazing country with wide expanses. The conflict took place from the 1870s and came to a head in 1892. The state had cattle barons who grazed their animals on the wide plains, which they did not actually own but considered were fair game for their herds. They grew rich and money brought a great deal of political power in the state. Their politics was very Republican.
A big problem for them as they saw it were the homesteaders who claimed the land and set up farms, fencing off parcels of the territory. The cattlemen saw this as a threat to their access to water. (Think SHANE.) There were more homesteaders than cattlemen, but the cattlemen had the money to support the Republicans who in turn made the law favor the cattlemen. But it was not so much that the cattlemen had everything their own way. The cattlemen formed a private interest group, The Wyoming Stock Growers Association, a combination of gentility and thuggery.
In 1892 things exploded into violent war near Buffalo, Wyoming. The cattlemen confiscated a large number of homesteader cattle claiming without proof that it had been rustled. They complained to the government that the homesteaders were stealing the open range cattle. There may have been some truth, but the stock growers also probably went a bit far in their interpretation. Then they want a lot further.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association hired a small army of twenty- six mercenaries, dubbed the "Invaders" or the "regulators" from Texas to get rid of the most vociferous leaders of the homesteaders. To them this was law and order and the law was fairly sympathetic.
Two of the leading homesteaders Nick Ray and Nate Champion were tracked the K C ranch and were trapped in the ranch house. This became a siege. It should have been a simple job for the small army to finish the two men off. It wasn't. The trapped men were good shots and the mercenaries were not so anxious to die for their wages and a cause that wasn't theirs. Other homesteaders went to the law and insisted what was happening was illegal and had to be broken up. But the corrupt authorities sided with the rich cattle interests. They admitted they had a responsibility to stop the carnage, but nobody said they had a responsibility to rush. However, word had reached town that the siege was happening and the law was foot-dragging.
With two hundred angry and armed residents the sheriff decided he had to do something. By now someone had also contacted the Governor. So the law finally stepped in, but not before Nick Ray was shot to death. Nate Champion had held off regulators all day until building he was fighting from was burned. The fire flushed Champion from the house where he too was shot to death.
Only then did the law officials and the angry citizens and federal troops called in by the Governor step in and arrest the Invaders. (So ends the film THE JOHNSON COUNTY WAR with a victory for the citizenry against the cattlemen.)
But the cattle interests were too strong and the Invaders were all released without being charged the next day. They returned to Texas. This proved that there was no justice for the homesteader cause in Wyoming. (So ends the film HEAVEN'S GATE with the cattle men winning a victory over the homesteaders.)
But the Johnson County War became a major state scandal. The political power of the cattlemen was clearly above the law and scared a lot of people in Wyoming including a lot of voting fence sitters. The state went Democrat in a big way. The cattle interests lost a lot of their power. The Johnson County War became a rallying cause for the Democrats for many years to come.
Who actually won the Johnson County War? That depends on whom you ask. [-mrl]
In response to Evelyn's comments on war films in the 11/21/08 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes, "I assume you've seen ZULU? One can plausibly put it in the second type rather than the first, but I found it at least a half-step better than your categorization of the second type." [-rlm]
Evelyn replies, "Yes, that is another good one, though obviously with a fair amount of enhancement of the characters involved." [-ecl]
Pluto (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Dan Cox's comments on Pluto in the 11/21/08 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
In your letter column Dan Cox wrote, "A conference was called to decide on a definition of a planet. (Calling groups of people together to decide unknown questions is a practice that goes back at least to the Council of Nicea, and probably much further.)"
I remember fondly a cartoon in "Datamation" some decades ago, in which a band of cavemen stood around a fire, clad in skins and carrying clubs. The caption recorded their leader's words: "Now that we've learned how to talk, let's have a conference." [-fl]
THE MAN FROM EARTH (letters of comment by George MacLachlan and Richie Bielak):
In response to Mark's review of THE MAN FROM EARTH in the 09/19/08 issue of the MT VOID, George MacLachlan writes, "I've been catching up on my MT VOID reading and came across your review of THE MAN FROM EARTH. This was a very thought provoking film and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for putting on the radar. I appreciate you bringing films like this to our attention in the MT VOID. Otherwise, I don't think I would have ever known about this gem and it would be a shame to have missed out on it." [-gfm]
And Richie Bielak writes, "On Mark's recommendation I watched "The Men from Earth" and I agree with wholeheartedly with his recommendation. It's a really great movie. If you have Netflix you can watch it online...." "[-rb]
[George, I just wish I knew of more films like this. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN-13 978-0-15-101274-9 ISBN-10 0-15-101274-1) is a straightforward fantasy novel, written by a major author and published by a major publisher, yet it has received surprisingly little coverage by reviewers of fantasy novels. (A review at sfgate.com seemed promising, but it turned out to be the "San Francisco Chronicle" website.) The reason seems to be that the author is too major--Saramago has did win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. Either the reviewers figure that people will hear of this book a lot elsewhere, or that it is somehow above being reviewed by "mere" genre reviewers. Neither seemed to affect them in the case of Philip Roth's THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. though, so I am confused. (And there was a review of Saramago's science fiction novel BLINDNESS in "Locus", back in 1999.)
The premise is certainly not new--it is basically "Death Takes a Holiday". In a small country somewhere (it feels like South America, though I cannot pin down why), on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, death ceases. Well, to be more precise, human death ceases--all the other animals and plants seem to be dying in normal numbers. At first, people are overjoyed, but soon the consequences become more obvious and what had seemed a blessing becomes a curse. The Church, the undertakers, and the insurance companies see the negative aspects first, followed by hospitals and nursing homes. Halfway through the novel, death (who insists on a lower-case "d") takes a slightly different approach, which I will not reveal. I will say that the second half is weaker than the first.
Saramago is not an easy author to read. Thank goodness the book is short (238 pages), because the sentences are very long and complex. The second sentence of the novel (for example) is 91 words long, with fifteen commas. And I suppose one might observe that some of the consequences will be obvious to readers familiar with fantasy. But Saramago covers much more than the obvious. For one thing, there is a long dialogue about its effect on religion, a topic carefully avoided in earlier genre treatments of the same premise. And there are other topics, such as a discourse on how the initial display of the country's flag by a few people who used it as a symbol of gratitude for (one supposes) Divine pleasure with the country turned into an effectively compulsory requirement: "Anyone who doesn't hang our nation's immortal flag from the window of their house doesn't deserve to live. Anyone not displaying the national flag has sold out to death." (Sound familiar? I can remember shortly after 09/11 someone asking us why we weren't flying a flag in front of our house, as if that were some sort of requirement, like keeping your lawn mowed.)
In spite of the "run-on" sentences, this is clearly a book worth reading, and I suspect will probably be better than the Hugo nominees, yet it is so off-the-radar of most fans that its chance of being on the ballot are vanishingly small. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement. -- JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO
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