MT VOID 02/06/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 32, Whole Number 1531

MT VOID 02/06/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 32, Whole Number 1531

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/06/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 32, Whole Number 1531

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

The Top Ten Scariest Paintings of All Time:>

The Top Fifteen Greatest Science Fiction Writers of All Time:

Kids (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Evelyn and I have no children. I have been asked, don't I miss having kids. It is hard to say that it is something that you can actually miss. Look, people who have kids suddenly having their lives abruptly changed completely. Quickly they adapt to the new situation and new world they are in. It is not the kind of thing you actually can miss. Do you miss your life going on as it was? You might as well ask don't you miss being picked up by a tornado and dropped in a land of Munchkins. [-mrl]

The Mouse and I (part 4) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The past is prolog. As I broke off last week I was about to tell you about my recent experience with a mouse and a so-called "humane" trap.

Over the last year I would occasionally here scratching at my back patio door. It was low at my back door. At one point I found a mouse hole half in wood and half in concrete. These mice are real diggers. I stuffed the hole with steel wool. The scratching stopped for a while. Then a few weeks later I would hear it again. I had one very persistent mouse. What bothered me was that the noise started to sound like it was coming from under the carpeting actually inside the house.

I picked up the carpeting and laid down a lot of steel wool. I was convinced my mouse was going to find his way under the carpet impassable. That was what I told myself. The scratching just started outside again. I decided to make a big investment in steel wool. I put steel will against the wall of my house the entire width of the patio. If the mouse was going to try to get in anywhere on the patio, it would have to cross a barrier of steel wool.

I was having a contractor work on my house and I asked him to seal under the patio door to protect against the mouse attack and against the steel wool working its way back out. Now the error was my fault. He found the steel wool, did not understand the purpose, and pulled it all out before he put in the putty. Thanks a lot. I told the contractor that the steel wool was mouse barrier and the how was besieged by mouse attacks. He said not to worry. No mouse was going to dig through his putty. I was unconvinced.

Five months later--Christmas morning as it happened--Evelyn saw a mouse running around in our den. I came over. Yup, it was a mouse all right. This was the clever fellow who had spent about a year trying to find a way in. It looks like he finally succeeded. I have no idea where he was getting in. I didn't see holes under the putty, but I would have felt better with a steel wool barrier. He was at least an inch and a half in diameter, rather fluffy and cute with big beady eyes. It did not help my mood to also find an attack of ants in the kitchen less than an hour later. It was the first mass ant attack we had had in several years. This was not a real sugar-plummy Christmas for us.

What can you do on Christmas? Home Depot was not going to be open. We waited and my visions of what the mouse might be leaving was not the kind of gift I would have wanted. Next morning we went and I bought four snap traps that I dreaded having to use (and did not have to, luckily) and one "humane" trap. This was a new one to me. It was a box about four by six inches. There is an open door attached to a plate. When the mouse stands on the plate, the door closes. The mouse cannot get to the door without standing on the plate, so the mouse can come in, but cannot return out. The bait is a bit of peanut butter (not included). The mechanism is simple but effective. The mouse smells the peanut butter, crawls into the box, onto the plate, closing the door, and he gets to his reward. But trying to get back out he cannot get to the door without closing it. Mechanical frustration.

I was off teaching mathematics when Evelyn heard scratching in the box. When I got home about two hours later there seemed to be life in the box. But looking through the semi-transparent walls I could not see the mouse in the trap. I assumed that the mouse was in the kitchen, not in the trap. But as the sound continued I took another look and realized that the mouse was in the box hiding under the trip plate.

[The following is probably illegal. I know it is in some states. You are allowed to catch and kill mice, but you cannot release them in the wild. Well, I had seen this mouse all fluffy and proud of his ingenuity on Christmas morning. No way was I going to kill him.] A little reading told me that mice have very good homing instincts. If you release them a mile from home, they will cross highways, swim streams, climb walls, pass great places for a mouse to live, and will return to the home that they love. I am impressed. We knew of a big park about ten miles from home. What is more there was a place to release him that probably was at least a half-mile from any building. I suggested to Evelyn that we bring him some peanut butter so he would have a good meal in his new home. She thought that was a crazy idea, and I didn't insist. I wish I had. And we drove there with the box as fast as we could.

When we got to the park and the release point I put on gloves, put the box on the ground, and opened it. Then I saw it. And I felt terrible about what I saw. The mouse was no wider now than my index finger. It was like a different mouse. His fur was mostly matted down but had what looked like punk spikes all over it. He was at first reticent to leave the now open box. Once on the ground he started running. It was not away from us as I expected but in a sort of random walk. He no longer seemed afraid of me since his path took him closer to me at times and then away again. Had he become completely unhinged? Was he blind? We left him there running around on the patch of grass. Frankly I do not like the chances for his survival in the wild like this. Perhaps some predator will get him. Or perhaps he will find the path home over ten miles. He was a clever opponent and I was not so very humane toward him with my "humane" trap. I suspect that at this writing he is already dead, but if not I wish him luck.

There have been no other mice since this one, so I assume he was working alone. Mice live about two years. This mouse had struggled for more than a year, hence most of his life, for the big prize. He just wanted to get into the house to find the unknown treasures that were there. Once or twice he came very close, and was foiled. Finally he solved the puzzle and found a way in. And for that he got two or three nights of foraging and then found a "humane" trap that reduced him to the panicked, mad little thing that I saw in the park.

Boy do I feel good that I did the "humane" thing. [-mrl]

Logic Puzzle Solution (by Richie Bielak and Mark R. Leeper):

Richie Bielak sent us the math puzzle we published last week, suggesting it would be a good one for the MT VOID. (Actually I used his word, but I am not sure this is what I would call a "logic puzzle.")

"You are standing in the circle. On the perimeter of the circle is a vicious dog. However, the dog can only move along the perimeter. It turns out that the the dog can run exactly four times as fast as you at your quickest. How do you get out of the circle without getting bitten?"

We received correct answers from David Shallcross, Dan Cox, and myself. This was David's solution:

Suppose you can run at speed S, and the circle has radius R.

First, choose a distance r so that 1-(pi/4) < r/R < 1/4. (You can do this because pi > 3.)

Next mark a circle of radius r, concentric with the original circle. Run along the perimeter of this circle until you are diametrically opposite from the dog. You can do this because you can run around this circle in time 2 pi r / S, which is less than 2 pi R / 4 S,the time for the dog to run around the larger circle.

Finally, run radially, away from the present position of the dog, out to the larger circle and out. This will take time (R - r) /S, which is less than pi R / 4 S, the time for the dog to run halfway around the larger circle, and reach your exit point. [-ds]

STRANGE FORCES: THE FANTASTIC TALES OF LEOPOLDO LUGONES (translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert) (ISBN-13 978-1-891270-05-5, ISBN-10 1-891270-05-2) (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Argentina seems to be a hidden hotbed of literature of the fantastic--hidden from most English speakers, anyway. While it is true that Jorge Luis Borges is at least somewhat known to readers of the fantastic, there are two other authors whose work is notable, but who remain basically unknown. One of them is Manuel Mujica Láinez, whose best-known work translated into English is THE WANDERING UNICORN. And the other is Leopoldo Lugones.(*)

Lugones (1874-1938) was a major Latin American writer. I am lucky that my father got a Master's degree in Spanish and saved his textbooks, because it gave me a half-dozen books to research Lugones with. (Textbooks, even those thirty-five years old, are still too pricy for me to acquire these casually.) When I looked through them, I discovered many references, and even entire chapters, on Lugones.(**) But all of them concentrated on his poetry, and mentioned his prose only in passing. And part of that prose is the fascinating 1906 collection, FUERZAS EXTRAÑAS.

This has now been issued in English by the Latin American Literary Review Press as STRANGE FORCES: THE FANTASTIC TALES OF LEOPOLDO LUGONES (translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert) (ISBN-13 978-1- 891270-05-5, ISBN-10 1-891270-05-2) and anyone who is a fan of Edgar Allan Poe or Nathaniel Hawthorne should seek this out. Readers of Spanish are lucky--the stories are available on-line at . And they are triply lucky, because the English-language edition omits about 15% of the original work--an essay on cosmogony in ten parts--which is included at the site (listed as "" above), and because that site also has a long introduction and copious annotations by Pedro Luis Barcia. (As compensation, perhaps, buyers of the book get a nice cover illustration of "The Visionary" by Jerry Wayne Downs.)

"The Firestorm" is a proto-disaster story, about a rain of "incandescent copper". At first it is just small bits of copper, and it stops. But then it re-appears, with more and larger pieces, and this progression continues. The story is told by a first- person narrator who has taken refuge in his stone cellar, and it is long on description but short on actual action. Although it is subtitled "Invocation of a Disembodied Spirit of Gomorrah", the quote from Leviticus would postdate the "historical" Gomorrah by several hundred years. Still, the description of the city is consistent with the time of Gomorrah. At least one person saw the descriptions as hinting at volcanoes, but it stuck me as being most reminiscent of one of the plagues of Egypt ("So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation." - Exodus 9:24). That may be because in the Bible the description of the destruction of Gomorrah was much less detailed that that of Egypt.

"An Inexplicable Phenomenon" is the story of an out-of-body experience gone wrong. Some compare it to the sort of thing that H. P. Lovecraft wrote later, but to me it seemed more obviously similar to (and possibly inspired by) Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1886). I cannot say for sure if the Stevenson was available in Argentina in a Spanish-language edition, or if perhaps Lugones knew English, but surely at least a description of the book was available. (According to Barcia, the story was originally titled "La licantropía", but retitled to avoid confusion with what Barcia calls the "wolf man".)

"The Miracle of Saint Wilfred" is more a straight fantasy (or horror) story than a science fiction story, and therefore much more "traditional" than many of the other stories in this volume. Apparently everyone in it in with the possible exception of the two main characters was real, and events other then the actual miracle transpired pretty much as described.

"The Bloat-Toad" seems like a classic fairy tale in structure, but again with Lovecraftian overtones. It first appeared under the title "Los animals malditos", indicating that perhaps Lugones planned a series of stories based on "cursed animals." In this he would seem to presage Horacio Quiroga's CUENTOS DE SELVA and ANACONDA ("stories about the fierce battle between reptiles and poisonous vipers"), published in 1918 and 1921 respectively. However, there is a very important translation/typographical error in "The Bloat-Toad", since it makes no sense for the old woman to tell the narrator that it is a good thing he did *not* keep the bloat-toad, when in fact he *did* keep it, and it is a good thing that he did. (And indeed, checking the original on-line, the line is "Gracias a Dios que no lo hayas dejado!"--"Thank God that you did not leave it behind!")

"Metamusic" leaves the realm of fantasy for hard science fiction. It is about an invention that can transform music--or any sound-- into colors. The narrator's inventor friend explains how this is possible in early Argentinian "tecnoparloteo" (a word I just coined for "technobable", which I cannot find in my English-Spanish dictionary for some reason :-) ). In any case, he explains that all that our senses detect are just vibrations of varying wavelengths. Heat is just a different wavelength of color, and so on. It's a performance worthy of the early issues of "Amazing Stories" magazine. (In fact, it inspired me to go back and read John W. Campbell's THE BLACK STAR PASSES from 1930, which I always think of as an exemplar of this category.) The notion of a correspondence between sounds and colors apparently goes back a long way (according to Barcia) and we see it even today, the best recent example being CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

The best part of this story for a mathematician is the hand-waving about how various numbers are critical to the invention. For example, the inventor explains that 27 is important because it is the sum of the cubes 1 and 8, the "lineals" 2 and 3, and the "planars" 4 and 9, and 36 is the total of the harmonic numbers. (Heck, I could do better than that: 36 is the product of the first three squares (1x4x9) and also is the sum of the first three cubes (1+8+27).) Thirty-six certainly has mystical connections, e.g., the lamed wufniks, the "thirty-six righteous men whose mission is to justify the world to God."

(I am not sure what "lineals" and "planars" are in English, or for that matter, what "lineales" and "planos" are in Spanish. What makes sense is that lineals are prime numbers, and planars are squares, but there are other perfectly good words for those in both languages.)

It is worth noting that Lugones gives all this description of how all the senses are really aspects of each other with talking about synesthesia. Then again, synesthesia may not have been identified until after Lugones wrote this. This story also has another translation slip--"Juan" is almost always translated as "John", but in one spot, it is left as "Juan".

"The Omega Force" is another hard science fiction story, about the ultimate destructive force, and full of more techno-babble. According to Barcia, the ending is ambiguous, though I must admit that when I first read it, I did not see two interpretations. (In the original book, this was apparently the first story.)

"Origins of the Flood", like "The Firestorm", is a story in which we are receiving part of the narration from a spirit from the past. It is the most Lovecraftian of Lugones's stories, with the story of an earlier race of, if not "Great Old Ones", at least beings who could certainly fill that niche. Unfortunately, Lugones's science (primarily chemistry) here is so ill-informed that it's almost impossible for a modern audience to read it with a straight face. Still, it manages to remind one not only of Lovecraft, but also of aspects of Olaf Stapledon's writing (primarily the vast expanse of time covered).

"The Horses of Abdera" would seem to owe a debt to Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, although clearly it also draws from various slave revolts and proletarian uprisings. The ending is a bit unsatisfactory, unless Lugones trying to say that no human force can stop such an uprising. (And since that is not true, at least in the case of slave revolts, it makes it even more unclear.) In any case, one needs to know that Abdera was founded by one of the people involved in Hercules's labor with the Mares of Diomedes to get all the allusions here.

"Viola Acherontia" is about a poisonous flower and seems reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter". Of course, developing poisonous plants is a not entirely uncommon science fiction plot, yet there is something in Lugones's style that moves it away from the "expository lumps" that one might think would make it hard science fiction and closer to the dark romanticism of Hawthorne.

"Yzur" is considered by some a forerunner (though not a precursor) to Edger Rice Burroughs's "Tarzan" books.

And this story is a perfect example of the pitfalls or problems of translation. Gilbert Alter-Gilbert's translation says, "I bought the ape at an auction of property," but then switches to "the lack of articulate language in monkeys," "monkeys once were men," and other references to monkeys, until he gets to "the chimpanzee (which is what Yzur was)." My first reaction is that Lugones doesn't seem to know the difference between monkeys (tails) and apes (no tails), chimpanzees being apes. But then I pause, and check, and in Spanish both "ape" and "monkey" are called "momo". (When you get down to the species level, there *are* separate words for "chimpanzee", "orangutan", and "gibbon".) When I check the Spanish, Lugones has used "mono" and "chimpancé". Alter-Gilbert, however, has decided to translate "mono" first as "ape" and then as "monkey", even though the latter is basically incorrect in English. My feeling is that he should have translated "mono" as "ape" throughout, since I believe that Lugones was referring primarily to apes, not monkeys, though "primate" would be an acceptable substitute (albeit more scientific than literary).

A similar translation problem (in reverse) occurred in the true story fictionalized in THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ: a bad translator could not distinguish between "caballo" (horse or stallion) and "yegua" (mare).

And of course, my comment earlier on "forerunner" and "precursor" is very much related to this, since in English we have two words, one Latinate and one English, which have slightly different meanings, while in Spanish, "precursor" has to serve for both.

Speaking of translation, Alter-Gilbert has to translate a very language-specific sentence here, where the narrator talks about teaching vowels by using words that contain them: "a con papa; e con leche; i con vino; o con coco; u con azúcar," Obviously, for English this requires changes, and it becomes "a with potato, e with beet, i with pie, o with cocoa, and u with prune." The ability to use single-syllable words actually helps the English, though retaining "potato" for "a" seems odd--why not "cake"?

"The Pillar of Salt" is, not surprisingly, about Lot's wife and a monk who is tempted by the Devil to bring her back to life. The ending is pure Gothic, with a single word too horrying to tell and all that. The title in Spanish is "La estatua de sal", and at first I thought that Lugones was making the "remains" of Lot's wife more human-shaped than the Bible indicated, but again it turns out that the original Spanish is the clue--in this case, the Spanish of the 1569 "Biblia del Oso" translated by Casiodoro de Reina and those following. In the Spanish, Lot's wife becomes not a "pillar" of salt, but a "statue" of salt, so the humanoid shape is already implied.

In "Psychon " the scientist is turning thoughts into matter--yet another science fiction story. And yet another "translation" problem of sorts arises here. In Spanish, the character talks about something being at "-237^3" (where "^" is the degree symbol. In this story this is represented as "-267 degrees 3", where the correct representation I believe should be "-237.3 degrees".

So the stories here fall into three categories. There are the Biblical/religious/mythological ones: "The Firestorm", "The Miracle of Saint Wilfred", "The Horses of Abdera", and "The Pillar of Salt". There are the science fictional ones: "An Inexplicable Phenomenon", "Metamusic", "The Omega Force", "Origins of the Flood", "Viola Acherontia", "Yzur", and "Psychon". And there is one fairy tale: "The Bloat-Toad". So Lugones straddles the fence (if fence there be) between fantasy and science fiction (or "scientific romance", as it probably would have been called in his time). In any case, he is an author well worth seeking by fans of works of the fantastic.

(*) A fourth fantastical author is Borges's sometime-collaborator, Adolfo Bioy Casares, whose science fiction work, LA INVENCIÓN DE MOREL (THE INVENTION OF MOREL), I will be reviewing at some point in the future. And the back blurb of STRANGE FORCES names a fifth, Horacio Quiroga, and compares Lugones to him. I will write more about Quiroga next week.

(**) Ironically, these books cover Lugones in far greater detail than they do Borges, although today Borges is famous and Lugones is all but forgotten. In LITERATURA HISPANOAMERICANA (the fourth volume of HISTORIA DE LA LITERATURA ESPAÑOLA) by Angel Valbuena Briones, Lugones gets a twenty-page chapter and two dozen other casual references, while Borges gets only eight passing references, six of them about his literary criticism rather than his own writings.

(The only other real commentary I found on Lugones's fantastical work was a blog by Carlos McKey (, which I found useful in generating some ideas for this article.)


LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow (copyright 2008, Tor, $17.95, 382pp, ISBN-13 978-0-7653-1985-2, ISBN-10 0-7653-1985-3) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

I'm going to start out by saying that I really liked this book. Really, really liked this book. And now I'm going to tell you that parts of it unnerved me, parts of it rattled me, and parts of it just scared the stuffing out of me.

Not bad for a YA novel, eh?

I've not read much Cory Doctorow fiction--if I remember, he did have some stories published in SF AGE, to which I was a subscriber for its entire run (as an aside, I spoke with SF AGE's editor, Scott Edelmen, in the lobby of the hotel we were staying at the morning after Denvention ended, and he remarked that if he'd had a few more subscribers like me, the magazine would have survived). I regularly read Doctorow's column in LOCUS, and I just recently discovered that he has written for INFORMATION WORK, a magazine I subscribe to at work (well, get for free, anyway). So, I didn't know what to expect when I picked up LITTLE BROTHER.

What I got was a very well, written, fast-paced, entertaining novel that will appeal to both the teenage set--both of my kids, ages 14 and 16, want to read it--and the adults in the crowd. It's really a terrific book.

Marcus Yallow is a sixteen-year-old hacker who lives in San Francisco and loves to play ARGs--Alternate Reality Games. On occasion he will ditch school to do so with friends. I mentioned that Marcus is a hacker--he makes a hobby out of hacking his school's security systems so he *can* get out and play those ARGs. He's a master at it. The school administration hasn't been able to really pin anything on him, but they certainly love trying to get him to admit his guilt.

Already, as you can see, this will appeal to a lot of our young readers--I mean, tweaking authority figures and getting away with it are things that do appeal to that age group (trust me, I speak from experience--refer to the ages of my kids). One day, after Marcus is called into a school administrator's office for the millionth time, he arranges to skip out of school to meet his friends to play a very popular ARG that involves clues and activities out in the real world--that is, not only on the computer. While they're out trying to get the next clue before anyone else, a terrorist group drops a bomb on San Francisco, and because they are trying to help one of their friends, Darryl, who was injured in the confusion that resulted in the aftermath, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are picked up by a group of what they thought were the terrorists and taken for questioning at a detainment facility that turns out to be very nearby.

The problem is that their questioners were not the terrorists--they were the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS thugs subject Marcus to a bunch of humiliating tactics in an effort to get him to confess to a crime he didn't commit. They eventually let him go, with a warning that if he tells his story to anyone that he'll disappear forever.

Marcus returns to normal life to find that San Francisco has basically been turned into a police state "for its own protection" by the U.S. government through the DHS. Marcus is shaken because of his gang of four that were together at the time of their abduction, one of them, Darryl, hasn't returned and is presumed dead. Marcus decides that he needs to avenge Darryl and to do so he plans to take down the DHS--not necessarily a small task.

What is fascinating and scary is that all the technology and crypto stuff that Doctorow talks about in LITTLE BROTHER is real. Marcus uses a hacked version of the Xbox to set up something called the Xnet with software that makes it very difficult for communications to be monitored. Well, the guy that in real life *did* hack the Xbox at MIT wrote one of the afterwords for the book. Arphids, tunneling over DNS, and other technologies are either explained in superb info-dumps that are short, sweet, and *understandable* or are talked about in the afterwords of the book. Security cameras, gait recognition software, and other surveillance methods, as well as hacks against those methods, are talked about in LITTLE BROTHER. In a bibliography at the end of the book Doctorow cites many sources and websites with all sorts of subversive information or information that the government may not have wanted you to know, but had to release because of the Freedom of Information Act. I guess I live a sheltered life; I went to look at a few of these sites and was totally amazed at what was there.

Aside from the appeal of the theme of questioning authority, this book is strong on the idea of living in a free country and doing something about it if your country is going in the wrong direction. Doctorow puts forth the statement that basically says "don't just sit there, DO SOMETHING", and that will appeal to many younger readers as well as those old timers who remember the days when they lived that statement but somehow got away from it.

This is a tremendous novel. Go read it, give it to your teenagers, and make sure their friends read it. Then get your friends to read it. Don't just sit there--go do that now.


For those of you who may be wondering when I'm going to finish my Heinlein assignment--I still have yet to read and review STARSHIP TROOPERS--rest assured that I'm getting there. I have two more books from 2008 on my current to-read stack that I want to try to read before the Hugo nominating period is up, and then I'll get to it. Next up, however, is Greg Bear's CITY AT THE END OF TIME. [-jak]

FROST/NIXON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Ron Howard tells the story of how a British comedian became the man who interviewed the resigned President Richard Nixon to get from him admissions that he never wanted to make in front of the country. While the main character is Michael Sheen's David Frost, Frank Langella is fascinating as the cold and withdrawn Richard Nixon. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

There is an old question of which would the best swordsman in France more fear to fight, the second best swordsman or the worst swordsman. The answer is that he would much more fear the latter since the worst swordsman would be unpredictable. Richard Nixon forgot that lesson if he ever knew it. Three years after he resigned the Presidency of the United States and was pardoned by succeeding President Gerald Ford the CBS television network wanted to interview him and would pay him $350,000 for the privilege. But faltering British comedian and talk show host David Frost offered more money for the interview permission. This offer was appealing for Nixon. Frost was, after all, just an amiable TV personality of apparently very ordinary intelligence well below Nixon's. Nixon's advisors told him that while CBS would throw him hardball questions, David Frost could throw him only "puffballs." Nixon decided to take the more profitable offer and went with interview by the boyish TV personality. Ron Howard's new film tells the story of how David Frost, not even an American, arranged to do the set of interviews. Frost and his staff hoped to make the interviews the trial that the American public had been denied when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. Nixon saw the interviews as a duel that would be fought with the unready Frost.

The film is David Frost's story with Michael Sheen (who played Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) playing Frost. He has our attention whenever Frank Langella's Richard Nixon is off the screen. But when Frank Langella is on the screen one almost forgets to notice Sheen. Langella is hypnotic. Frost risks his entire career to arrange and commit to the production of the interview only to find that the major TV networks are not interested in buying the interview. Having an affable talk show host come in and interview Nixon seemed to negate much of the point of the enterprise. Frost's search for sponsorship turns to the likes of Weed-Whacker and Alpo dog food. Nobody has faith that this production will be any more than a rehash of Nixon's already familiar arguments. And Frost himself comes to realize that he has little new to bring to the questioning.

FROST/NIXON is a study in contrasts between the two very different breeds of men. Frost is an extrovert, a man with outward polish, but even he himself cannot find a real person deep within the glossy shell. Nixon is a dark and lonely introvert. He is a man of great intellect, but he cannot connect with people. Even the people who work for Nixon, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) and Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones with a bizarre accent), are just the same sort of dark, cold people. Frost is the kind of man who can pick up a woman on an airplane and have a fling though the weeks of the interview process. Nixon both disapproves of and envies Frost for this ability.

One might fear that the script would not make clear how each is playing their side of the game. The film makes very clear how Nixon is playing with Frost and how Frost tries to catch him up. This is a game of Cat and Mouse with the mouse knowing that his whole career depends on him catching the cat. But the real performance is from Langella whose facial reactions when he listens are more riveting than the questions he is being asked.

Peter Morgan who wrote THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and THE QUEEN writes the screenplay based on his own produced Broadway play. For those who fear they may not remember the important historical details Morgan starts the film with a nice little recap of the Watergate controversy to remind the audience and bring them up to speed. I rate FROST/NIXON a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Last week in my review of ORLANDO I wrote about "a philosophical theory proposed in the 20th century--justice is what you would arrange for a society if you were responsible for setting it up *before* you knew what your position would be in it." Well, I just ran across a reference to it that had all the information about it I couldn't remember. It was proposed by John Rawls in his book A THEORY OF JUSTICE (ISBN-13 978-0-674-01772-6, ISBN-10 0-674-01772-2), which I have not read. However, as I understand it, he hypothesizes a system whereby we all decide before being born what kind of society we want to be born into. "Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their concepts of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance."

There are, of course, a couple of problems with this. One (pointed out in the work where I read this) was that Rawls assumes people would be risk-adverse, thereby choosing a much more egalitarian society, while in reality they might be willing to accept a 3- billion-to-1 chance of ending up in a very negative situation. (Think of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".) A bigger problem, I think, is that it merely pushes back the problem one level. How does the "pre-society" collective decide on the world to be created? Rawls seems to assume that the best (only?) approach here is a straightforward vote. While that may seem intuitive to people used to voting on things, surely somewhere someone will suggest that perhaps the choice would be better made by some other method, e.g., list all the possibilities, then pray for a sign by God.

Another, more mathematical difficulty, is that Rawls assumes people are more logical than may be the case. Given a society in which either everyone gets $2000 or some get $50,000 and some get $3,000, he assumes people would pick the latter, while it seems quite possible they would choose the former.

THEY RANG UP THE POLICE by Joanna Cannan (ISBN-13 978-0-915230-27-3, ISBN-10 0-915230-27-5) is another 1930's mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. The sleuth in this (and its sequel DEATH AT THE DOG) is Inspector Guy Northeast, unusual for the time in that he was not an upper-class toff, or even a person of Sherlock Holmes's or Hecule Poirot's class (whatever that would be called), but more an Inspector Lestrade or Chief Inspector Japp. (Someone more familiar than I with the British class system might be able to express this better.)

(And was Joanna Cannan named on a day that the typewriters at Somerset House had only five working keys?)

And just as a random thought, why has no one done a lipogrammatic anthology (i.e., one in which each of twenty-six stories avoids one specific letter)? [-ecl]

[Perhaps people believe that the lipo idea sucks. -mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The voice of the Lord is the voice of common sense, 
           which is shared by all that is.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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