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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/17/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 42, Whole Number 1541
Table of Contents
Science Fiction Discussion Groups (NJ):
April 23--LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7:00PM
"Marcus, a.k.a 'w1n5t0n', is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works--and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school's intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems. But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they're mercilessly interrogated for days. When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police st ate where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself." [amazon.com]
May 14: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, original film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story after film
Are You Now or Have You Ever Been... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Honest. Subject line on a piece of spam I got was "Please revert back to me". [-mrl]
Opportunity Not To Be Missed (fiction by Mark R. Leeper):
An uncle of mine lived in a small town tilling the ground and making what poor living he could. It was a hard life and he often envied the boys he saw who when they reached their majority had left town and made their fortunes in the city. He wanted to go himself but was afraid that he would not be able to find work and would come back to the town a failure. The general opinion in the town was that my uncle would never amount to much. Evening after evening he would visit the town's saloon and talk to the other men, even though there were none there that my uncle cared for as a friend. They were only people to talk to as he drank his drink.
One day he received a letter addressed to him. This was October and though it was not unheard of for him to receive a letter by mail, the last had been in April and that was somebody looking for another of my uncles who owed him money. Once he read the letter it sat on his kitchen table unnoticed until June and by then the sender had found my other uncle. But this letter was not like that. This came from a wealthy man whom my uncle had once met. The man had driven his fancy car to town to visit the banker, but ran out of gasoline just a mile or so from town. The wealthy man had knocked at my uncle's door and asked if my uncle could sell him some gasoline. My uncle had none to spare but drove the wealthy man into town where he could purchase some gasoline in a can. The wealthy man had thanked my uncle for the ride and took note of his name and address saying that some day perhaps he could do something to pay back my uncle.
And this was the man who had sent a letter to my uncle. My uncle opened the letter, rushing a bit and accidentally tearing the envelope across his address. No matter, it was what was inside that was important. Inside he found a letter from the wealthy man addressed to him. The mail said, "you have done me a good turn, sir, and I would like to repay you. Come to the Hotel Majestic and we will have a business meeting. Let me assure you, good sir, that this is for you an opportunity not to be missed!" The letter was signed by the wealthy man and he gave his address in a city that my uncle had often heard about but had never visited. He weighed the option of going or not in his mind. On the bad road that he would have to travel the trip to the city would take at least two days. And it would be another two days to drive back. But that is only if he did drive back. Who knew if the opportunity might not be so good that he would never want to come back? On the other hand, the letter proclaimed that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and how many of those does a man get in his lifetime? My uncle decided he would have to at least see what the opportunity was. He would drive to the city and speak to the wealthy man. Times being what they were he would not waste his opportunity that was "not to be missed."
Two days later my uncle was dusty, as he stood at a counter just a little dustier at the Hotel Majestic. The hotel manager stood behind the counter is a sleeveless undershirt peering at my uncle. The lobby smelled of something that had been fried just the week before. My uncle wondered why the wealthy man could not find a place to stay more majestic than the Hotel Majestic. He asked for the room number of the wealthy man. The wealthy man did not have a room number any more. He had had a room, four, five days earlier. And the truth be known he had not checked out. But the woman who cleaned the room had said that the wealthy man, his luggage, and the linens from the bed had all disappeared the same disastrous night. The hotel manager looked at my uncle more like as if he had six legs and not two and asked would my uncle be willing to settle the wealthy man's bill?
Three days later my uncle was home again and still more dusty. He wondered whether he would ever be given an opportunity not to be missed. That evening he went for a drink and told the saloonkeeper that he had been to the city. The saloonkeeper just answered with just a "Right." A moment later the saloonkeeper asked him, "Have you really been gone?" "Sure," my uncle said. "Sorry, pal, I guess I just didn't notice. Larry, has this guy not been around the last few nights?" Larry was the closest thing my uncle had to a friend, but he was not much of one. "I dunno. You tell me. Better yet, why not ask him?" It turned out that nobody in the saloon had noticed that my uncle had not been around. So the wealthy man had been truthful when he said it was an opportunity not to be missed. My uncle took the opportunity and had not been missed. [-mrl]
REPO!: THE GENETIC OPERA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a Grand Guignol science fiction rock opera starring Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, and Anthony Head. Rotti Largo, the man who supplies the world with synthetic transplant organs, became the most powerful man in the world during a strange epidemic. As he nears death there is a struggle for who will inherit his empire after he dies. The plot is minimal and for a rock opera, there is too little real melody. Visually the film is a little nauseating but otherwise very inventive. Darren Lynn Bousman, director of three sequels to SAW, helms this film with what I would guess is the same sensitivity. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
The time is somewhere around the middle years of the 21st Century. The world has been ravaged by a strange plague that attacks by destroying internal organs. There are not enough natural organs to go around for all the transplants that are needed. But a company named GeneCo has fulfilled the demand. They have perfected artificial organs that function like the real thing. That is the good news. The bad news is that like any medical technology these days, the artificial organs are very expensive. When it is a question of living or dying, many are willing to pay the price and GeneCo offers easy credit. GeneCo has become the wealthiest company in the world. But large numbers of organ recipients are deeply in debt to GeneCo. When they cannot pay GeneCo sends the Repo Man to legally repossess the organs from their living bodies and leave them bleeding and dying.
The owner of GeneCo is the ruthless medical industrialist Rotti Largo (played by Paul Sorvino). He has three has three children vying to be the most cold-blooded to prove they are worthy to run the empire. Meanwhile we meet Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega) is a teenager with blood disease that keeps her at home. She is discovering that her dead mother has a history with Rotto Largo. And Nathan, her father ("Buffy"'s Anthony Head), may also have had other involvements with the most powerful man in the world. This is all told in a world in which the smart set lives ignoring the gruesome violence in their society that they pass every day. By the time the story is over everybody seems to be awash in the spilt blood. The plot does have some interesting concepts behind it somewhere deep in the bloody organs.
The color palette is usually very controlled with strong colors suited to the mood of the scene. That also enhances the graphic novel feel of the film. The film uses the gimmick of having all the expository lumps presented as comic book panels.
Reader Susan de Guardiola, who recommended the film to me, said that she could not get the music out of her head. The reason she is still humming the music is what is most wrong with the movie. It may be a question of musical taste, but the music is all short repetitive note combinations without more than a rudimentary melody. You can find some of that style in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, but that also has longer and more engaging melodies such as "I Don't Know How To Love Him". In REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA someone will be saying things in a five-note theme repeated three times, then will get a response to the same five-note theme. Pretty soon you cannot get that five-note theme out of your head. The Top-40 stations work by the same principle of repetitions. But there are no longer engaging melodies. Much of the music is not so much sung as yelled to the sound of a heavy beat. That makes the music all the less appreciated when it overstays its welcome and becomes an earworm.
Along for the ride in lesser roles are Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton. The screenplay is by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich based on their own stage play. (Smith has a role as a bandleader and Zdunich plays the film's host and the grave robber.) There are numerous borrowings (or perhaps homages) to other musicals. However, the screenplay is probably more timely today than when it was first produced on the stage with themes of credit problems and corporate malfeasance, both on people's minds right now.
It is hard to get excited about songs of ecstasy over getting kidney transplants or people who rip out their own eyes. I rate REPO!: THE GENETIC OPERA a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0963194/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/repo_the_genetic_opera/
Susan de Guardiola's extensive blog on the film: http://www.rixosous.com/2009/02/repo-the-genetic-opera.html
Kinship Terms (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comment on kinship terms in the 04/10/09 issue of the MT VOID ("I want to know if there is a term for the relationship between my father's brother's wife's brother's husband, and my brother's step-son's son. Mark's answer is 'acquaintance', but I am looking for something a tad more specific."), Fred Lerner writes:
You might try a Hindi dictionary. That language has distinct words for subtleties in family relationships that English lumps together under "uncle", "aunt", and the like. I wonder if some anthropologist has come up with a classification scheme for cultures based on the ways their languages make provision for describing family (or other) relationships--or vice versa. [-fl]
Large-Print Books (letter of comment by Mike Lukacs):
In response to Evelyn's comments about large-print books in the 04/10/09 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Lukacs writes:
There are now a number of competing camera or scanner systems and programs dedicated to use as magnifiers for reading books, newspapers etc. that allow you to place the book on an easel or flatbed, image it on a computer either in real time or as large sections stored on disk, and read it greatly magnified with simple zoom and pan controls. Some of the programs even reformat the text into one huge scrolling line.
Look for them at opticians' stores. Medicare, etc will help pay for these. [-mel]
Steganography (letter of comment by Mike Lukacs):
In response to John Sloan's letter of comment on steganography in the 04/10/09 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Lukacs writes:
Truly unbreakable steganography is not much harder, in digital images. Rather than replacing every Nth full pixel you use only the least significant bit of all or some of the (typically 8-bit) pixels. On these LSBs you encode another image (with a prime number differing Hor/Vert raster). Using digital compression coding which increases the entropy of the coded signal so that it looks a lot like thermal noise which is expected on LSBs. Beyond the compression coding, the picture or any other data can be Security encoded with PGP or RSA or whatever is your favorite algorithm. The difficulty of finding an encoded sequence to match to any clear text sequence multiplies the strength of the final security code. With modern computers the encoding and decoding can be done in real time << IF >> you know the dozen or so compression codec parameters and raster and the N bit security code key and algorithm.
("Video compression coding was my business between ten and forty years ago." ) [-mel]
[Mike was one of our early members and is a longtime friend. (He also at one time had the most beautiful and elegant cats I had ever seen.) I sort of follow his response, but I am sure there are readers who will get more out of it that I do. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A couple of weeks ago, in the 04/03/09 issue of the MT VOID, I talked about the Linford Mystery Library of large print books. The ad in the back of one of their books says they publish "romances, mysteries, general fiction, non-fiction, and Westerns." And my library does have some volumes from the Linford Romance Library, the Linford Western Library, and so on. However, the most recent one I checked out was from the Linford Mystery Library and was E. C. Tubb's TIDE OF DEATH (ISBN-13 978-1-84782-145-4, ISBN-10 1-84782-145-6). The mystery is what this book is doing in a mystery library--it is a straight science fiction novel, pure and simple. Set in a post-atomic-war world full of controls and shortages, the book starts with the discovery of an almost magical source of unlimited free power. Then, of course, it turns out that there is a downside--it will grow and destroy the world. If this sounds terribly 1950s, it's because it was first published as WORLD AT BAY by Panther in 1954. While it is enjoyable in a nostalgic way, it does seem very dated now, though, and I wonder why they picked it, and what someone expecting a mystery would make of it.
REMARKABLE CREATURES: EPIC ADVENTURES IN THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGINS OF SPECIES by Sean B. Carroll (ISBN-13 978-0-151-01485-9, ISBN-10 0-15101-485-X) pointed out what a remarkable anniversary year 2009 is. Most people who follow this sort of thing are aware that it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. But it is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of ORIGIN OF SPECIES, the 100the anniversary of the discovery of the Burgess Shale, and the 50th anniversary of the first hominid finds by the Leakeys in east Africa. (And it is apparently the 30th anniversary of when Luis and Frank Alvarez, Frank Asaro, and Helen Michael wrote their paper on the Chicxulub asteroid extinction at the end of the Mezozoic, since it was published in the June 1980 issue of SCIENCE.)
[It seems like we are due for another big discovery right about now. -mrl]
SWIFTLY by Adam Roberts (ISBN-13 978-0-575-08234-2, ISBN-10 0-575- 08234-8) is an expansion of two stories which appeared earlier, one in a book titled "Swiftly: Stories". Alas, the expansion does not serve it well--the middle part seems unnecessarily padded and dragged out. In addition, Roberts draws not only on Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS (the premise is that Gulliver's account was true), but also from several other authors for concepts and images.
As one example, consider the following passage: "On the Great North Road, a great worm of humanity pulsed slowly away to the horizon, people walking, trudging, hurrying or staggering, handcarts and horse-carts, men hauling packs stacked yards high with clinking pots and rolled cloth, women carrying children, animals on tight tethers." All that is missing is the phrase "the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind."
Roberts also makes several annoying errors. He writes, "Each patch of dirt was delineated from clear glass by a hyperbolic line running from bottom left to top right, as, Bates thought, x equals y squared." (page 2) First of all, x equals y squared is parabolic, not hyperbolic. Second, it is parabolic in the wrong direction (bulging up rather than down). And third, there is a bottom half of the parabola that Bates (or Roberts) completely ignores.
Again, Roberts labels a diary enter 11 Nov  and then has someone say it was Thursday. No, it was Saturday. On page 37 a character uses the term "zero-sum"; this was not coined until a hundred years later. And on page 315, a character writes, "Whilst a new Nero arose and cried aloud 'If only all Rome had but one neck...'" Sorry, but that was Caligula.
I will note that of Roberts's non-fiction book SCIENCE FICTION, I said that it needed better proofreading: John Campbell was referred to as "Joseph Campbell" at least once (page 75), Isaac Asimov's "Hari Seldon" was spelled "Sheldon" every time after the first mention, and Olaf Stapledon's name was spelled "Stapleton", both in the text and in the index. (I note that MS Word's spell checking seems to think the former *is* a misspelling, while the latter is not flagged.) Roberts clearly needs to find better proofreaders. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in his heart. -- Benjamin Franklin
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