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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/16/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 42, Whole Number 1593
Table of Contents
Do Your Bit (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is bad enough we have to send in our income tax, the government also forces you to pay the United States Post Office just to send in your taxes. I think that they could get a little good will if they made those envelopes postage paid. If they don't want to do that for everyone they could make it voluntary. It could be post- paid, but they could have a little box that says "Your stamp helps keep the United States Government afloat." [-mrl]
Brigadoon (comments by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper):
I heard the radio playing the music from the play "Brigadoon" and I decided the music was nice enough I wanted to see the film. So I put it on my NetFlix queue. I had always thought I had seen the play as a teen, but now I realize I was thinking of "Finian's Rainbow". Now that I have seen it, I think that the story is a lot like LOST HORIZON and does not get its due as a piece of science fantasy.
"Brigadoon" is a musical with the words by Alan Jay Lerner and the music by Frederick Loewe. It played on Broadway in 1947 and has a sort of post-war feel to it. I frankly do not think that Lerner thought out what he made the premise of the play/film.
The concept is this. In the mid-1700s Brigadoon was a Scottish hamlet (as opposed to the Danish one) that was to soon be besieged by witches. The local minister named Forsythe decided that the way to save the town was to hide it from the witches. He made a magical deal with God that that evening the town would vanish into the Scottish mist. The village would stay fixed in time in a sort of stasis and would return a hundred years later. That night it would again vanish in the mist. And so it would continue, appearing only one day every century. This makes it not just inaccessible on other days but non-existent as well.
Now there are some problems with the idea. The place is supposed to represent some sort of stability, a place you can go and escape the world. To the villagers a whole century in the outer world passes as if it were over a single night. When people wake up in the morning they see sunlight and seem surprised, as if to say, "Oh, this is the day!" But the script seems to say that for them every day is "the day." They do not have a life any day that the village does not appear. Certainly life in the village does not seem to change. They are just alive one day each century. There is reason to suspect that the viewer is not given the whole story. For one thing (SPOILER COMING UP) the main character leaves Brigadoon but re-enters the village at the end on a day that Brigadoon supposedly is not appearing. And there does seem to be someone there to explain basically that love conquers all and so he can do it. Alan Jay Lerner apparently had written himself into a corner and has to break his own rules. In a fantasy the viewer has to overcome a suspension of disbelief, but tacitly agrees to believe the rules given. When the writer decides he need not follow his own rules, that is really a betrayal of the viewer.
But let us ignore this infringement of the play's own rules. Our story takes place two Earth centuries after the pact began, but to the Brigadoon people their whole odyssey started just the day before yesterday.
I think it is the point of view of the writers that Brigadoon is a quaint little relic of the past. It is a little piece of 18th century Scotland seen from the 20th century. The main character is an American who, with a friend, stumbles onto Brigadoon and wants to stay in its 18th century world. Again more thought was needed. Brigadoon is not the place for people who want to hold onto the past, it is really for people who want to embrace the future. This is not a place of stability; it is a place that I think is going to have some real excitement as the world jets forward with time- travel-like speeds.
Brigadoon, we are told, is insulated from the world because it is isolated in the middle of the Scottish countryside. It is miles to the nearest town. And the play seems to assume that that means that the people will never be touched by the outside world. That was true Brigadoon Day 0 in the 18th century and was true Brigadoon Day 1 in the 19th century. However, that isolation is already breaking down in Brigadoon Day 2 in the 20th century. There are two New Yorkers who have found their way in and this is only Day 2. I suspect in a Brigadoon day or two later they are going to be seeing major changes even out here in the woods. Certainly things will be very different after one Brigadoon Month.
One Brigadoon month: that would be thirty days in Brigadoon or thirty centuries in our time. That would take them three millennia into the future. How much is three millennia? In 2010 it is about 273 years more than the age of the city of Rome. Rome was founded it is thought in 753 B.C.E. In Brigadoon that much time will pass in what feels to the residents like a month. Will their little corner of Scotland really be so isolated in three millennia? I ... don't ... think ... so. My advice to Brigadoonians is hang onto your tam o'shanters, you are going to see some real change really soon.
Our main character thinks that he is escaping the hubbub of modern life which just indicates that he is not really very good a doing mathematics or he lacks imagination. He is about to be catapulted into the future at 36524 times normal speed. Returning to Brigadoon will not give him peace, it will give him a real education and I suspect that education is just a day or two away in his time. [--mrl]
Evelyn has her own questions:
I just watched BRIGADOON and I have a few questions:
How do the people in Brigadoon know what the terms of the curse are? Even if they know what Forsythe asked for, how can they know precisely what he got, especially since he was never seen after he went out to pray?
How come the people in Brigadoon are so knowledgeable and believing, since it has been only two (local) days (or two hundred external years) and they were all saying that they got few outsiders anyway. Everything should look just like it did two (local) days earlier.
And why does the domine have to post a map to show them the boundaries? Again, it's only been a couple of days. Assuming he reminded them the previous day, the speech he gives seems a bit overdone.
If *everyone* left Brigadoon, would that circumvent the curse (that if anyone left, when the people remaining went to sleep, the town would vanish permanently)?
How are the people in Brigadoon going to feed themselves? Even if they can cultivate crops, is the size of the village big enough to support the entire population? And if they come back the same day every hundred years, it better be in the summer or they have no chance of growing anything.
Similarly, what about clothing, metal goods, etc.? There is no way for them to trade for anything unless a merchant happens to wander in with what they need, and even then they have no way to pay him.
I assume the rules apply only to people, since there doesn't seem to be anyway to keep some of the sheep from wandering out of the village (never mind insects). If a sheep does wander out, I suppose someone could send a sheep dog out to round it up, though they risk losing the dog as well.
And the ending is a complete cheat! [-ecl]
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A young Viking is anxious to win glory by killing a few of the dragons who ravage his village. When he actually gets to meet a real dragon close up he discovers that dragons are not at all what he thought. Those who enjoyed flying on dragons in 3D in AVATAR can do it again. The plot is overly familiar but still effective. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Some stories seem destined to be told over and over again. While there is no evidence of cross-pollination between AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, much of the stories run nearly parallel. In each film people like us are in a deadly place mostly because there are natives to the area who are hostile. Fate gives a newcomer a chance to actually make contact with the natives and to his surprise he is absolutely charmed by them. The visitor realizes that the real villains are not the natives but his own people. (Pogo said it: "We have met the enemy and he is us.") Our hero's people are going to attack the natives and he is torn between two loyalties. The story must be mythic because it shows up with minor variations so often. Beside AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON it was the plot of DANCES WITH WOLVES, POCAHANTAS, FERNGULLY, DUNE, THE LAST SAMURAI, several westerns, and probably a lot more. For the basic plot and some of the emotion of the film, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON gets no points for originality. But that does not mean it is not a good cinema experience. This familiar plot is superimposed over the world of the books written by Cressida Cowell. Dean DeBloisand Chris Sanders who co-wrote and co-directed LILO & STITCH team to again co-write as well as co-direct.
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the only Viking boy on the island of Berk who was not born with huge muscular arms and legs. Nonetheless Hiccup dreams of glory gained by killing the evil dragons who raid and devastate his village. Hiccup does not have the muscle power of his peers and becomes the shame of his people. He devises a homemade cannon and with it takes down a dragon. Claiming his kill only makes him more of a laughing stock. Nobody believes him so he goes off to find his trophy dragon carcass. He finds the dragon still alive and struggling. He would kill it, but as much as he hates dragons he cannot find it in him to kill one who is helpless. Soon he and the dragon he has dubbed Toothless find they can help and trust each other. Hiccup becomes skeptical of all the bad things he has heard about dragons. But the other Vikings are determined that the dragons have to be conquered and destroyed. As the young warriors see it "Our parents' war is about to become ours."
The set pieces of the film are the gliding flights on dragon-back filmed in 3D. Unfortunately, those scenes are weakened because this film was released so soon after AVATAR. Where this film does do very well is in the animal story. The boy and the dragon slowly go from hatred to trust to friendship and on to real bonding. In AVATAR one comes to respect the Na'vi, but they are too aloof to engender affection from the audience. And in that sense this is a stronger film than AVATAR. One does feel for the dragons and is moved by their situation. Otherwise there is a lot that really needs cleaning up in this film. Once again we have the stereotype of Vikings in horned helmets. Vikings did not wear horned helmets. The flying dragons do not seem to have enough wing area to stay aloft. Toward the end of the film we see dragons with even less wing to mass ratio. (Note: To see a dragon that really looks like she could fly, see the film DRAGONSLAYER.)
The Vikings, particularly the adults, have Scots accents. That is disturbingly wrong and often reminded me more of SHREK. Jay Baruchel is twenty-eight years old and his voice just does not seem to fit Hiccup who is apparently less than half that age.
I guess this film should lose points for being overly similar to films like AVATAR, but I admit I felt more real emotion from this film than I did from the mega-blockbuster. I rate HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0892769
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1194522-how_to_train_your_dragon/
THE SHADOW ON THE DOORSTEP by James P. Blaylock (copyright 2009, ISFiC Press, $30.00, 260pp, ISBN-10: 0-9759156-7-3, ISBN-13: 978-0-9759156-7-7) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Every year, Steven Silver and his fine staff at ISFiC press publish a book to coincide with WindyCon, one of the three regional Chicago area SF cons that are held every year. I've reviewed one other ISFiC press book, RELATIVITY by Robert J. Sawyer. I have many more on my to read stack, but the title of the 2009 entry, THE SHADOW ON THE DOORSTEP, intrigued me enough that I picked it up to read ahead of the others. While it's not really my cup of tea, it is a wonderful book.
THE SHADOW ON THE DOORSTEP is a collection of Blaylock's personal favorites (says the dust jacket). It has an introduction by Tim Powers, an Afterword by Lewis Shiner, and wonderful jacket art by Phil Foglio. It's wonderfully put together with regard to its physical presentation, and really, no matter what your tastes, it is a terrific sampling of Blaylock's work.
So, why is it not my cup of tea? Well, to be honest, it's really not "fantastic" enough for my tastes. In some cases it is downright too subtle, and in a couple of cases there are no fantastic elements whatsoever. However, every story is terrifically written. Blaylock's stories are personal, biographical, and resonate with the reader. I found myself reflecting on whatever topic was the focus of the particular story I was reading at the time. Many of the stories made me think about my life in relation to the story, and that just normally doesn't happen for me. So, while the stories aren't to my tastes in fantastic fiction, they are terrific nonetheless.
So, my favorites? Easy. "Thirteen Phantasms" is a sweet story about a man who discovers a box of old SF magazines that unlocks a past that we all thought was long gone. "Unidentified Objects" gives us a story where we meet a strange man who really may not be what he appears. "The Old Curiosity Shop" is a place where a man must face the loss of his wife and what the past means for him. "His Own Back Yard" is a touching story of a man who finds himself in the past in the house and yard where he grew up, being confronted by his father who believes him when he tells him who he is, as well as being confronted by his past.
Two of the stories that didn't do anything for me but are worth mentioning are the title story, which didn't live up to my expectations of its title - although I'm not sure what I was expecting; and "Doughnuts", a story about addiction. I think my expectations for this story were raised when I attended the launch party for this book at WindyCon and there were doughnuts all over the place to be had for the eating. I love doughnuts, but the story really did nothing for me.
On the other hand, there really were no bad stories in this bunch. I can see why Blaylock calls these his favorites--they all have something to recommend them, and they are all well written. They're just terrific stories.
This is another fine entry into the series of ISFiC press books.
So, aside from an audiobook I'm currently listening to--Catharine Asaro's SKYFALL--my next set of reviews will be my annual attempt to make some sense of this year's Best Novel Hugo Nominees. Until then.... [-jak]
Army Transportation Museum (letters of comment by Jay E. Morris and Kip Williams):
In response to Kip Williams's comments on jet packs in the 04/09/10 issue of the MT VOID ("the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Stewart, near my old home of Newport News, Virginia"), Jay Morris wrote, "Let's see, when I was stationed at Ft. Stewart I was not all that close to Newport News, and the Army Transportation Museum was at Ft. Eustis." [-jem]
And Kip replies, "I reached for the wrong name. Fort Eustis is correct. Where's Fort Stewart? Georgia? (Yes, near Hinesville. Thanks, Google. We passed through there one time on our way back from seeing the third shuttle launch when we lived in Statesboro. After we came back, I dreamed of Hinesville.)" [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
BORGES Y LA MATEMATICA by Guillermo Mart¡nez (ISBN-13 978-950-731-514-5) is two lectures on Jorge Luis Borges's use of mathematics and a series of essays on mathematical subjects in general. Whether all of Borges's use of mathematics was conscious on Borges's part is not always clear, but the book is fascinating.
For example, after explaining the infinity of rational numbers between zero and one, Mart¡nez draws a parallel between this and the Book of Sand, that book of an infinite number of infinitely thin pages. Just as no matter where you are on the number line (as long as you are not at zero), there are always an infinite number of rational numbers between you and zero, so it is that whatever page you are on, there are always more pages between you and the front cover.
Mart¡nez also discusses infinity, Russell's Paradox, and the Library of Babel; talks about an article by Borges entitled "The Fourth Dimension"; describes what he calls "recursive objects"; compares the generic, the concrete, and abstraction; and in general takes a variety of mathematical concepts and applies them to the works of Borges.
All this takes up about 85 pages, which would be somewhat skimpy for a book, so Mart¡nez fills it out with eleven more essays on other mathematical topics and reviews of mathematical books. These include the golem and artificial intelligence, Fermat's Last Theorem, the parallel postulate of Euclid, the "Pythagoras Twins" studied by Oliver Sacks, etc. One rarely finds books of mathematical essays in the United States (at least not in my library or bookstores near me), although books of science essays seem to abound. And, alas, this book is not going to help solve that, because it was not published in the United States, but in Spain, and is in Spanish. The one thing about reading mathematical essays in Spanish is that a lot of the words are cognates of English, and even when not, one can often extrapolate the meanings of some words by the rest of the sentence (for example, "even" or "odd").
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS by John Buchan (ISBN-13 978-0-199-53787-7) is a classic espionage thriller. It is also a (possible) example of one of the recurring themes of this column: anti-Semitism in English literature of the early twentieth century. I say "possible" because most of the anti-Semitism in THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS is spoken by Franklin P. Scudder early on: "Besides, the Jew behind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell. Do you wonder? ... For three hundred years they have been persecuted, and this is the return match for the pogroms. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him. ... [If] you're on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bathchair with an eye like a rattlesnake." (One reviewer notes that he has seen very few bathchairs with eyes like rattlesnakes.) But later Sir Walter says of Scudder, "But all this about war and the Black Stone--it reads like some wild melodrama. If only I had more confidence in Scudder's judgment. The trouble about him was that he was too romantic. He had the artistic temperament, and wanted a story to be better than God meant it to be. He had a lot of odd biases, too. Jews, for example, make him see red. Jews and the high finance." The problem, of course, is that this doesn't come until three-fourths of the way through the novel, by which point the attitudes expressed in the first passage have become fixed in the reader's mind. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. -- Richard Dawkins
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