MT VOID 05/14/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 46, Whole Number 1597

MT VOID 05/14/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 46, Whole Number 1597


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/14/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 46, Whole Number 1597

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/ All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

History Repeats (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A headline that caught my eye was "Lord Jesus Christ suffers minor injuries in downtown Northampton crosswalk mishap." True story. You can see it at . The man's legal name is Lord Jesus Christ. And this is not a first time a Lord Jesus Christ was injured on a crosswalk. [-mrl]


High-Fructose Corn Syrup (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

There are quite a few studies that say that high fructose corn syrup is not nutritionally or metabolically worse for you than sugar. They may be right, but high fructose corn syrup is still worse for you. Why? It's worse for you because it is cheaper, and this means that companies can make their products "taste better" or "be more appealing" by putting in more of it than they would of the more expensive sugar. [-ecl]


The Passing of a Great (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There is an old edition of Robert E. Howard's CONAN THE BARBARIAN from Gnome Press that pictures Conan sort of like a Roman soldier in breast armor and looking reasonably buff.

http://www.sciencecodex.com/graphics/conan%20old%20cover.jpg

To me it looks all wrong. I was not around when that edition was current. My image of Conan goes considerably beyond just being a man in good shape. I picture a man with huge iron muscles. I guess I see Arnold Schwarzenegger. But even before the film I did not visualize someone of the proportions of the jolly Roman soldier. I picture a huge muscular Conan. Why? Because as long as I have been seeing Conan on book covers he has been a larger than life man of Herculean proportions. This was the cover of the first Conan book I ever owned:

http://tinyurl.com/36roku2

Those old covers were my idea of who Conan was. And he was something much bigger than the Roman soldier. If you look in the lower left corner of that painting you may be able to make out the signature. It says "Frazetta." That was the painter: Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta was no Degas, no Van Gogh. If you look at the technical style it is quite good, but he is not one of the greats of art history. His specialty was capturing the fantasies of teenage boys of all ages. And he was very good at doing just that.

Frazetta had a rare ability. Reading a Conan story in a magazine could be fun. It was enjoyable if not great literature. There was, however, a way you could make it a much more exciting story. Reading it you could really feel the sinews of great barbarian. When he swung a sword it would be half strong enough to cut down a tree. The way to make the story that good was to just look for a few moments at a Frazetta painting. It did not have to be painted to illustrate that particular story. Just looking any Frazetta Conan painting you got the idea of Conan. You knew what Howard was writing about. If you read the story fresh from seeing the painting the story came alive for you. Now you knew what Howard was thinking. Without benefit of chemical substances (other than paint on canvas) you entered an altered state of consciousness that made the stories genuine thrillers. An artist can do that for a story, though few artists actually do.

What Frazetta was painting, not unlike what Robert E. Howard was writing, could be said to be juvenile or immature. Both the artist and the author were targeting adolescent boys. In our society that is not considered to be a really ambitious goal. But both did such good work aiming for that target that they have inspired generations of artists and writers who took what they invented and tried to do as well. They are rarely matched.

By the time a film was made of Conan nobody would have accepted an ordinary athletic actor as the barbarian adventurer. It had to be someone like Schwarzenegger. He had a little acting experience, but he looked like a Frazetta figure. He was bigger than life. After Frazetta gave us his image of Conan nothing less would do. Schwarzenegger had a career in film and probably even one in politics also because he looked the way Frazetta pictured Conan.

I am writing this May 11, 2010, the day after Frank Frazetta died. But this is not an obituary. That could not be done very well without writing about Frazetta's full career. He did art for Mad Magazine and posters for movies. He did covers for books with a much fuller range of fantasy than I am writing about here.

I have always been able to marvel at the strength am imagery in a Frazetta painting and even enjoy a little of the silliness that thankfully he never acknowledged in his fantasy paintings. This article is nowhere near comprehensive enough to be an obituary or a tribute. It is merely an acknowledgement of what I think of when I think of Frank Frazetta.

Take a few minutes to look at his art at http://frankfrazetta.org/ or http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=693. [-mrl]


Upcoming TCM Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Turner Class Movies subscribers,

Here is some of what is coming up on TCM for the rest of May that is of genre interest. You can see the entire month by going to http://tinyurl.com/25kwhum.

A nice early Peter Lorre film, really a crime melodrama but on the edges of horror, is THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (5/24). Lorre's character comes to the United States and optimistic and idealistic immigrant. He is terribly disfigured in a fire and has to wear a mask. He becomes the brains for a criminal gang.

One I have not seen and am looking forward to is TOMORROW WE LIVE (5/27). It is fringe horror and it is directed by the great Edgar G. Ulmer who is best known for THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE MAN FROM PLANET X, but who did quite a number of bizarre little films.

Incidentally most films that TCM runs have film notes written about the film. Most TCM pages have a plat near the top for the database search. Click on "site" and type in the title of the film you are interested in. Click on "go". On the page you get look for "TCM Programming Article {your film}." There you will find an article about the film you entered. They must have about 90% of the films they run covered. Also in their regular listings, if they list the film and have a little icon of a book following it, just click on the book and that will get you the same article. [-mrl]


BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest (copyright 2009, Tor, $15.99, 416pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-1841-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

The next book in my annual survey of Hugo-nominated novels (I reviewed WAKE by Robert J. Sawyer awhile back) is BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest. I will tell you up front that I was predisposed to dislike this novel. You all know my tastes by now, and, as a cover blurb says "A steampunk-zombie-airship" novel is definitely *not* to my tastes.

Or so I thought.

Let me say this up front. I liked this book, a whole lot more than I thought I would. It's a straight adventure story, with no pretentions about trying to pander to the literary crowd. Sure there are messages in this book, which I'll talk about a little later on, but that's not what this book is about. It's a fast moving story with all sorts of unsavory characters, monsters, and a goal in mind. There's a beginning, a middle, and an *end*. So many books these days don't have an end, or the end is so ambiguous that I want to throw them against a wall. Not this one.

I'm just not quite sure it belongs on a list of best SF books of the year--then again, for me, the jury is still out on the whole steampunk as SF thing. I read THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE by Sterling and Gibson back all those years ago--arguably the beginning the steampunk genre--and I didn't care for that book either.

Anyway, the setting is Seattle during the Civil War. Russia is about ready to sell Alaska to the U.S., but before they do that they hold a contest for inventors to see if they can come up with a machine that can dig through the thick ice to get the gold out of the Alaskan soil. Leviticus Blue comes up with the titular machine, which he takes out on a test run before it's ready. He basically digs deep into downtown Seattle and releases a gas called the Blight. The Blight essentially turns human beings into zombies, called rotters. This stuff is so bad that a wall is built around the city proper to keep the gas in--it doesn't rise that quickly. Those who stay inside find a way to survive--and those who don't turn into rotters. Those on the outside, the Outskirts, struggle to survive. As you might guess, unsavory characters find a way to turn the Blight into an addictive drug and make money off of it by selling it to folks in the outskirts.

The story centers on Zeke and Briar Wilkes, the son and wife of Leviticus Blue. They live in the Outskirts. Briar works in a Blight processing plant, purifying water of the stuff. Zeke is a disillusioned 15-year-old who wants to clear his father's name of the crime of bringing the Blight on Seattle. He finds a way into the walled city to get to his family's old house and find evidence that Leviticus wasn't so bad. Blair finds out that he's gone into the city and follows him to find him and bring him home.

From there, it's a big adventure, where Briar and Zeke run into interesting and unsavory characters, continually encounter and run away from rotters, and encounter the man who may or may not be Leviticus Blue going by the name of Minnericht.

I'm not going to give away the ending, but let me tell you that it does come to a satisfactory and well-done ending. And yes, it does have messages about technology run amok, profiteering on the bad fortune of other people, and family togetherness. It's all mom and apple pie, and that's okay. It's got a lot of the trappings of a steampunk story.

Hugo material? I don't think so. Look, having read a lot of the books in our field that have won this award, I automatically compare any book up for the Hugo to those classics in the field: DUNE, ENDER'S GAME, HYPERION, SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, STARTIDE RISING, GATEWAY, THE FOREVER WAR, RINGWORLD, and THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, to name just nine. That's sort of a problem, because I go, heck, this book doesn't stand up to *that*. But it doesn't. Then again, I'm still waiting for modern-day classics. Hopefully I'll find one soon.

Next up, THE WINDUP GIRL. [-jak]


THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE is a documentary that is sort of a "Whitman's Sampler" of religious, metaphysical, and philosophical beliefs and opinions from all over the world. Roger Nygard gives us a non-judgmental survey of what people think about the biggest questions of life. Interviewed are famous people and others you have never heard of. The director ties them together in a film that is constantly entertaining and thought provoking. Nygard, who previously directed the entertaining documentary TREKKIES, sets his focus on people's deeply held and widely disparate metaphysical beliefs and makes a film ironic, sad, and amazing, but most of all funny. Without ever taking a stand himself, Nygard shows the breadth and inconsistency of religious belief around the world. This is the best documentary I have seen this year. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Nygard's list of 85 difficult questions follows this review.

Roger Nygard previously made the enthralling documentary TREKKIES, an exploration into the world of super-fans of the Star Trek universe. He managed to make a film that shows that community-- warts and all--without being offensive. His secret shield was that he just looked at the people without being at all judgmental. In a new documentary he uses this same approach to look at people's belief in issues of religion, faith, and metaphysics--issues that countries have gone to war over. With a light touch he manages to make another charming film that is inoffensive as it covers the diversity of people's attitudes about some of the touchiest questions we face. It is obvious that Nygard knew at the beginning that if he really were looking for the answers to his questions, he would fail. Besides it is more fun to search for truth than to find it. His true intention was to show a broad assortment of belief. Indeed he finds people in the same religion giving contradictory answers to his questions. The director never intrudes himself on his subjects. He is content to just train his camera on people with ideas and opinions and let them represent themselves as best they can.

Among the people giving opinions are Orson Scott Card, Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Irvin Kershner, Larry Niven, Michael Shermer, and Leonard Susskind. That list includes science fiction writers, a biologist, a physicist, a filmmaker, and the publisher of "Skeptic" Magazine. Also, we return periodically to "confrontational" evangelist Brother Jed Smock who seems to choose college campuses, arrive uninvited, and preaches an often X-rated or sexist message to passersby. Then there is wrestler Rob Adonis (founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling) who tells the gospel interpreted with professional wrestling. Who has the best and clearest answers? My pick would be Chloe Revery, a 7th grader who seems to have things pretty well figured out.

The first half very much sticks to religious thought from the United States, but eventually Nygard travels internationally in search of unusual world-views. From the Druids who celebrate at Stonehenge to the Orthodox Jews in Israel, to the pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela in India, which attracts 17,000,000 people, Nygard searches for answers. Much of this is similar to the material of Bill Maher's RELIGULOUS, directed by Larry Charles. But while Maher comes off a little smug as if he has the answers, Nygard takes no stand and shows no bias.

Chloe Revery says it all: "I think truth is what we are all searching for, isn't it? Even though sometimes it is more fun to search than to actually find it." That is really what this film is all about. It is the fun search for a truth we know we will never find. But we want to go along for the ride. This is a nice small documentary that is a pleasure. I rate it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

(THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE will open at the Quad Cinemas in New York Friday, June 18, in Los Angeles July 2, and other major cities in July.)

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1196672/

What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nature_of_existence/

The 85 Questions -- How would *you* answer?


Short Reviews (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):

This was actually written for another group, but it may be of interest to our readers. These are short comments on films I saw last weekend.

THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY

Hammer Films's take on the cult of the Thuggee, worshippers of Kali who strangled travelers as a sign of their devotion. The cult was very real and probably murdered more than a million Indians. The film borrows heavily from John Masters's novel THE DECEIVERS. (Filmed again as THE DECEIVERS (1988) with Pierce Brosnan) George Pastell plays the leader of the cult. I will say more about Pastell below.

The Thugs (pronounced Togs, though they gave us the word thug) were religious killers who would join a traveling caravan supposedly for safety. At a given signal they would pull out sacred cloths with coins knotted at on end. They would use them to silently strangle everyone in the caravan. The Goddess Kali allowed them to rob their victims, then the bodies would all be buried so the caravan disappeared without a trace. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuggee.

OSS 117: CAIRO--NEST OF SPIES

Something of a find on Netflix Instant Play is this spy-film satire. OSS 117 is a character from a series of French novels, the oldest of which predate James Bond by four years. Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, (alias OSS 117) is clearly made up to look like Sean Connery in the earliest of the Bond films, though this film is supposedly set in 1955. Shot from the right angle he really does resemble Sean Connery. He is what Bond would have been with a room temperature IQ. His behavior is a lot like Bond leavened with Maxwell Smart. But some of his mistakes are funnier than Maxwell Smart. The film is visually very crisp on good stock so it looks like the Bond film. This is the seventh film about OSS 117 and an eighth has just been released here. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSS_117.

CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB

Hammer's very decent follow-up to their THE MUMMY, not a sequel but a brand new story and probably a better one than the Cushing-Lee MUMMY. This may well be the best mummy film since the original with Boris Karloff. George Pastell's deep sonorous voice again graces the film. Also American comic actor Fred Clark has a nice role as a crass Yankee entrepreneur. Again the film features a performance by George Pastell, here playing Hashmi Bey. Pastell was a familiar face in 60s British films. He was the evil priest in Hammer's THE MUMMY. His deep, melodious, accented voice is immediately recognizable. He was also in films like MANIAC and KONGA. He was the train conductor in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. [-mrl]


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

"Origins of Ancient Civilizations" by Professor Kenneth Harl is another course from The Teaching Company. Having just finished "Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations", this seemed like a good next choice. And Harl has turned out to be a bit more engaging than Prof. Brian M. Fagan, and certainly a faster talker. One gets the impression that one is getting considerably more than thirty minutes' worth in a half hour.

Of course, as usual, I can find things with which to disagree. In the second lecture, Fagan is discussing literacy and tries to define what constitutes a fully-formed written language (as opposed to, say, a minimal set of pictograms or a bunch of knotted strings). But he falls into a circular reasoning trap when he says that a fully-formed written language is one that can convey everything that the spoken language does. He doesn't seem to recognize that even our written language does not meet this requirement: it does not convey emotion, or tone, or various other content. And I am not sure that other current languages would meet this. Alphabetic languages probably would, but would a pictographic language such as Chinese? (For that matter, I'm not sure that Hebrew without the vowels would even meet the requirement.)

Harl also talks about agglutinative versus inflected languages (in the context of ancient Sumerian), which will sound familiar to people who have read Neal Stephenson's SNOWCRASH. [-ecl]



                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net


Quote of the Week:

           I don't answer the phone.  I get the feeling 
           whenever I do that there will be someone 
           on the other end.
                                          -- Fred Couples

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