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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/17/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 3, Whole Number 1554
Table of Contents
Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. The car *they* don't want *you* to have. [-mrl]
Science Fiction Discussion Groups:
July 23: no Old Bridge (NJ) meeting this month August 13: JURASSIC PARK, Michael Crichton, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, original film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story after film
Charles N. Brown (1937-2009):
Charles N. Brown, founder and long-time editor of LOCUS, died in his sleep on the way home from Readercon. A full obituary appears on the LOCUS website at http://tinyurl.com/n3qa8b. [-ecl]
Another Theory Shot to Heck (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I was a kid I used to hear that the best places to eat were those where you saw trucks out front. Truck drivers supposedly knew where to eat. It proved to be perfectly true, but only for someone whose taste in food was no better than a truck driver's. [-mrl]
Thus I Refute Buzz (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Buzz Aldrin recently complained that the lack of interest in the space program is much the fault of science fiction. Science fiction, he says, has raised people's expectations with its transporter devices and hyper-light travel. Real science, like space exploration, is slower and more cautious.
I always thought that science fiction contributed greatly to science. The truth is that science fiction has been both good and bad for science.
Back when the film THE RIGHT STUFF came out it had the quote "No bucks, no Buck Rogers." It meant that without proper funding there would be no space program. I turned it around and said at my local L5 Society meeting that largely there also was a case of "No Buck Rogers, no bucks." One of the great factors promoting the space program was that science fiction had captured people's imagination and has made them want a space program. This is a curious dual to what Aldrin said. Perhaps science fiction did falsely advertise the drama of spaceflight. It is not clear that that was not what was needed to get large numbers of people interested in science. And of those who were interested in science, I doubt that there were many who turned around and rejected careers in science because it did not have any light-sabers.
This does not say that Aldrin does not have a point. The same imaginative images may have raised people's expectations and the reality has been disappointing. I can remember claims by people that they were really looking forward to humans first setting foot on the moon. They claimed that to there very great shock, NASA had made the event dull. Science fiction has made people interested in the space program, but it cannot keep them interested in the space program. It is up to NASA to do that.
I remember talking to my guidance counselor, probably when I was in seventh or eighth grade. She asked me what I was interested in. I think that the first thing that came to mind was science fiction. What else? Well, I like science. She nodded and said that that accounts for my interest in science fiction. It was like she thought my interest in science fiction was some kind of a personality oddity that needed an explanation. I told her that it was probably the other way around. I don't know why I qualified it with the word "probably"" Science fiction certainly was the basis of my interest in science. There was no "probably" about it.
I was interested in science fiction, or at least the tropes of science fiction from about the age of five. The interest in science came not long after, but after. Science fiction led the way. When I took science courses somewhere hanging over them was the image in my mind of space travel and that this was the way to get to do that. I need hardly add that the images of space travel looked a lot like the art of Chesley Bonestell. Without use of anything like light-sabers I suspect Bonestell's science fiction art was the inspiration of a lot of soon-to-be aerospace engineers.
I think my imagination accounted for the interest in science fiction and the science fiction accounted for my interest in science. I suppose from science fiction I personally was interested to see how humanity actually did make it to the moon, but I admit it was not as exciting as it was in DESTINATION MOON. I wasn't so much disappointed as edified. Had there not been science fiction I would not have been disappointed, but there probably would not have been a space program to be disappointed in.
Back in the 1950s science and science fiction were in close partnership. From 1952 to 1954 there was a classic series of articles in Colliers Magazine looking at how it was thought that space would be conquered. It especially covered the current thinking of Wernher von Braun, but it was brought to life by the space art of artists like Bonestell.
See http://home.flash.net/~aajiv/bd/colliers.html if you are unfamiliar with the series.
Is this magazine series science or science fiction? It was a bit of both. Walt Disney soon picked up on the popularity of the Colliers articles and he got many of the same people working on three "Tomorrowland" episodes for his Disneyland TV show: "Man In Space", "Man and the Moon", and "Mars And Beyond". (Each episode was from one of the "lands" that were sections of Disneyland. Though I watched faithfully I think these were the *only* Tomorrowland episodes there ever were.)
Each of the three Tomorrowland episodes started with a light-hearted but informative lecture on the history of man's relationship with space or what the current thinking was in the development of a space program. Each episode ended with a dramatization of a mission going into space. Those little pieces of science fiction were the frosting on the cake. The special effects look a little hokey more than a half-century later and the music can be over-dramatic, but I still find them exciting. As of this writing they are up on YouTube.
Man in Space:
Man and the Moon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_drW76wUuD4
Mars and Beyond: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r99XcaYDjg
Again, this was fact-based science fiction. The magazine and the TV shows really excited my generation and reportedly the generation that came before which included one John F. Kennedy who set a national goal for the country of putting a man on the moon in the 1960s. Had there been no Buck Rogers there probably would have been no bucks. The science helped to inspire the science fiction and it brought in readers.
Overall science fiction likely has done as much for science as science has done for science fiction. And I would say that it certainly has done more good than harm. [-mrl]
A DOG OF FLANDERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A rare but truly fine family film has finally made it to DVD. A Flemish boy is held back from his dream of becoming an artist by his extreme poverty. But then he makes two friends. He finds a dog, beaten and abandoned, and adopts the dog even less fortunate than him. But more important is the relationship he forms with the artist in town who tries to teach the boy the meaning of being an artist. The story has been adapted to silent films and to Japanese anime, but a standout performance by Theodore Bikel makes this the best of the three sound and live-action adaptations. This film is a personal favorite of mine. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
One of the great double features of my youth was 20th Century Fox's pairing of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH with James B. Clark's A DOG OF FLANDERS. I came away liking the co-feature as much as the film I had gone to see. (Okay, almost as much, but I was a *real* science fiction fan.) Over the years I have looked several times to find it on video. It was available only on a rare VHS tape. Finally it has been released to DVD, digitally re-mastered, and I could not be more pleased.
So why would a film that outwardly looks like it is just a boy-and- his-dog story set in Belgium be such a find? First of all, the dog story is just a sub-plot. The film is more about the struggles of an impoverished boy to dedicate his life to creating art. But there is something more about it that is very unusual. It is honest in a way that very few family films ever are. Life is very hard for its main character and the film does not pull its punches. This film is not sugarcoated. (Admittedly the ending is not as grim as the ending of the book.) There are themes in this film of cruelty, of loss, but also of love and of the redemptive power of art. Does that sound like a lot to put into a single film, a family film? It is there and it all works.
Nello Daas (played by David Ladd, son of Alan Ladd) lives with his grandfather (Donald Crisp), the town milk deliveryman in a Belgian town. Nello's one obsession is art. He is fascinated by the local painter Piet van Gelder (played by the wonderful Theodore Bikel). The boy has tried doing his own art using what little he has-- iodine and charcoal, which are far from ideal materials. Nello knows that there is supposed to be a magnificent painting in the local cathedral, a work of Peter Paul Rubens, but the painting is behind a curtain and the cathedral charges a franc to see the painting. Grandfather knows how unlikely it is that Nello could be a successful artist and has planned a very different career for his grandson. One day Nello and his grandfather find a dog that had pulled a cart, but is now collapsed from overwork and mistreatment. Nello adopts the dog in spite of the fact that he and his grandfather barely have enough food to keep themselves alive. But the heart of the film is in the relationship that Nello forms with the self-doubting artist van Gelder.
This is a classic and one of the best family films every made. It is moving and says a very great deal about life and about art. Some major changes were made from the original story, but it does not tell children that life is never hard. I rate the 1960 version of A DOG OF FLANDERS a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Though never said, the town is really the City of Antwerp and the cathedral is the Cathedral of Our Lady. The great Rubens painting the boy wants to see is Rubens's The Elevation of the Cross:
We see the actual city, cathedral, and painting in the film.
The title dog, named in the film Patrasche, is played by Spike, who also played the title role in OLD YELLER. The screenplay was written by Ted Sherdeman who co-wrote the screenplay for another famous animal film, THEM!
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052745
Unassociated Thoughts about Time Travel (comments by Hugh McGuinness):
I've often thought about the time travel case a la H. Beam Piper's "Time and Time Again", where the protagonist travels back into his own body but at an earlier point of his life, but retains future memories and knowledge.
It is acceptable in this story because he is essentially a single man with no children, or "ties" to the future. If it happened to me, I'd essentially be condemning my children to non-existence: there would be little chance of ever recreating the exact circumstances that led to their creation, I might not persuade their (future) mother that I'm worth reproducing with, or a host of other possibilities might turn me away from that path.
This realization might cripple me so emotionally ("I've killed my kids!") that I couldn't choose to travel back before conception of my youngest child, and this severely limits any gains the travel might afford me.
Even thinking about it makes me almost cry :-) [-hmg]
It is an interesting idea for time travel. It would explain why we never get any time travelers in New Jersey. I never see one. It could be they are all over the place, but since you never get a new person out of this arrangement I am not seeing anyone new. With Time Travel this way you never get to the far future, but you are effectively immortal.
As for the problem, of course you could have other children. Probably they would be children who are just as good as the ones you have now. They wouldn't be the same, but you could be just as close to them as you are which your current children. And your current children would not die. They would just never have been born. That is painless for them.
I think you have a problem getting hung up on specific individuals. That makes everything more complicated. You might want to try a sort of GROUNDHOG DAY approach. Just keep going back until by chance you get a really good batch. Then you can stop trying. After a few hundred, you would really get to know what to look for so you would just have to spend a few years each batch of kids. You can draft (and memorize) a list of acceptance criteria. After the first hundred I am sure you would not make the mistake of becoming too attached.
I guess there is some question of whether if you had the same body you would get the same kids. But I suspect you would probably be varying the timing and that would give you different children each time.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE AFFINITY BRIDGE by George Mann (ISBN-13 978-0-7653-2320-0, ISBN-10 0-7653-2320-6) is a steampunk novel with airships and mechanical automata, as well as a glowing blue policeman who has apparently come back from the dead to avenge his murder. The subtitle "A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation" tells you several things. One, this follows in the great tradition of detective/assistant mysteries. Two, neither Newbury or Hobbes is likely to turn out to be the villain. And three, both will survive, because there seems to be clear intention to make this a series if this one is successful. And it is reasonably entertaining in a steampunky, Victorian-detective sort of way.
However, Tor really needs a better proofreader. On page 98, we read: "The device is designed to power itself. When the automaton moves, a rotor inside its abdomen rocks back and forth, racheting the winding mechanism and causing the mainspring in the chest to become taut. Effectively, the unit is self-winding, and thus it will never power down, unless commanded to do so. If left inactive for long periods without instructions, the unit will eventually move itself to trigger the winding mechanism." This may be an alternate world, but they presumably have not repealed the Laws of Thermodynamics. First, what Mann has described is a perpetual motion machine, one in which no energy is lost while it is operating (a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics). But even assuming that worked, why would it then have to wind itself when it was inactive for a while? That implies that energy is leaking out somehow, but that it can recharge itself as a closed system to restore that energy (a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics).
(It is true that the person who says this is not scrupulously honest, but there is no revelation that he has lied in this context.)
A YEAR WITHOUT MADE IN CHINA by Sara Bongiorni (ISBN-13 978-0-470-11613-5, ISBN-10 0-470-11613-7) is Bongiorni's description of trying to go an entire year without buying anything made in China. Her reasons seem a bit vague--she claims not to be opposed to Chinese goods per se, and was willing accept them as gifts. Indeed, at times she basically *asked* people to give her children specific things that they wanted that were made in China. And she spent a lot of time explaining to her children, and friends, and us, that it was not that she disliked China, or that China was bad. Also, her efforts were mostly at the end-product level, because it became obvious that one could not always tell where the parts for something were made (though she did try). Bongiorni seems to vacillate between spending a lot more money to avoid something made in China and conniving to get as a gift something she (or more often, her son) wants that is made in China. It is also not clear how much buy-in she had from her family on this project that they were involved in. While there are interesting anecdotes about trying to find children's shoes or sunglasses, it mostly seems like an undirected experiment, sort of like deciding not to buy anything made with plastic. (Or perhaps even less directed than deciding not to buy anything made with plastic.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning. --Henry Miller
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