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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/02/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 1, Whole Number 1604
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
July 6 (Tue): THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) and "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Steven Millhauser, film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story after film July 8 (Thu): RICHARD III by William Shakespeare, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 1995 film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and book after film (and, yes, it is science fiction!) July 22 (Thu): THE PRESTIGE by Christopher Priest, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 12 (Thu): THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams, 2005 film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and book after film August 19 (Thu): THE SURVIVAL OF THE SICKEST by Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
The Story of My Life (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn tells me that every time I make chocolate pudding there are chocolate stains on her good dish towel. My life has always been hounded by bizarre coincidences like that one. [-mrl]
July B-Movie Recommendations for Turner Classic Movies (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[Note: I write a monthly page of recommendations of upcoming B-Movies on Turner Classic Movies.]
The schedule is at http://tinyurl.com/july-tcm-bmovie.
I went to write my monthly commentary on the upcoming month on Turner Classic Movies. It looked to me like a really lackluster month. Then I saw I had entered April's movies as July. I removed them and replaced them with the real movies for July and realized that the real July schedule was excellent. Probably it was the best lineup for several months. It includes a 24-hour marathon of SF/horror/fantasy, starting 8 PM on July 18.
What films do I recommend?
For starters this film has what is considered to be one of the best B-movies ever made. THE NARROW MARGIN is a good suspense film that really was made for the bottom halves of double bills. But it was good enough that it was remade with (with Gene Hackman). This film stars Charles McGraw, best known as the sadistic instructor at the gladiator school in SPARTACUS. THE NARROW MARGIN involves him on a train trying to protect a woman whom the syndicate wants dead before she can testify against them.
For those who have been waiting for it, TCM shows THE GREEN SLIME this month. The short electrified monster is cute, but the film overall does not live up to its repute. On July 10 there are two excellent British films. Those who missed BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW when it showed earlier this year will get a second chance. Set in the 1700s, this is the story of what happens in a small village when a piece of a demon is turned over by a plow (or is it a plough). Director Piers Haggard has very good period feel. That same day they will also be showing FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, a.k.a. QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. This is one of the most intelligent SF films ever made. Like 2001 (also showing this month together with 2010) it deals with uplift and the origins of the human race.
BLACK ORPHEUS was at one time considered a major prize-winning international film. You do not hear about it much any more. It is a retelling of the Orpheus myth against the background of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Then at the end it turns out to be something more. The music was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
Speaking of international fantasy films TCM is also showing Jean Cocteau's surreal BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. It is also a very well- respected film. Some of it is a little pretentious for me, but Cocteau gives it a real dreamlike feel.
If you have never seen the western MACKENNA'S GOLD it can be a lot of fun. It was over-blown and silly before over-blown and silly were cool. TCM is showing both the Lon Chaney and the Charles Laughton version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
I cannot actually call THE MANSTER good, but it is a rare film and some fun. The victim of a mad scientist becomes a two-headed monster who eventually splits in half to form two people.
It had nothing to do with B-movies, but Michael Ritchie's SMILE is a one of a kind comedy and quite funny. It is a very cutting satire about a teenage beauty contest.
Finally there is KING KONG (1933). What can I say? The big guy's still got it. [-mrl]
TOY STORY 3 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Some of the most serious films being made today are the comedies from Pixar Animation Studios that the whole family can enjoy. Pixar has another hit returning to the "Toy Story" franchise. In TOY STORY 3 young Andy who always loved his toys is going to college and his toys are going into storage. As a last- minute reprieve they go instead to a day-care center where they can play until they break. Unfortunately that fate may not be as far away as they had hoped. The writing quality is what makes this film work as a comedy, an adventure, and a film with some serious affecting human drama. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Pixar Animation Studios turn out films that are real audience pleasers. But what really is special about their films is not the animation, nice as it is. Pixar has some of the best writers making films these days. Films like UP and TOY STORY 3 are great not because of the animation or even the situations, but because of the writing. The stories they made are genuinely affecting in ways that one does not expect from animated films. These films speak to very human worries of abandonment, rejection, disappointments and regrets. These are very adult concerns but with humor and animation these fears can be discussed in a film that both children and adults can appreciate. What is marvelous about Pixar's animation is not that it is pretty and accomplished, it is what the animation lets them put into a story.
TOY STORY (1995) was Pixar's first feature film. They proved the concept that a feature film could be made from digital animation and turned into a big hit for Disney Studios who released it. Disney commissioned an hour-long sequel to be released only on video. Instead, Pixar made a second feature film of TOY STORY 2. Though this caused legal disputes between Disney and Pixar the film was another big success, being released in 1999. That was eleven years ago and now with more grown-up characters the third "Toy Story" film has been released. Flying in the face of the principle that sequels decrease in quality, the "Toy Story" films become more profound and intelligent with each new chapter. TOY STORY 3 looks deeper into the relationships between toys and humans. The issues it faces can be seen as a view into the moral implications of slavery or of the relationship between humans and God.
As we join TOY STORY 3, Andy is having a big-screen adventure with his toys. Then we bridge to the present. It is many years after the time of the last chapter and Andy (voiced by John Morris) is now a young adult ready to go off to college. He has not played with his toys in years. The toys are aware that the order of things they knew us coming to an end. Andy plans to take Woody (Tom Hanks) to college with him and the other toys are destined to end up in a plastic trash bag in the attic. Through the standard sorts of mix-ups the toys instead are taken to be donated at a local daycare center. At first this seems to be the best of all possible worlds. But the toys are going to discover that some humans are better than others. And so are some toys.
This story is a proper sequel to TOY STORY 2. It is not just a new story with the same characters and certainly not a retelling of a previous story. Instead it resolves issues that came up in the previous film. In TOY STORY 2 Woody realized that Andy was going to grow up and become too old for the ageless Woody. Woody came to realize that his relationship with Andy was only temporary. That was what happened to Jessie when her owner grew too old for her. TOY STORY 3 is the story of that actually happening and Woody has to make some tough choices. A "Toy Story" film is an allegory every bit as much as George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM. It creates complex human situations beyond what its younger audience can appreciate. That is what sets it apart from the classic Disney films prior to the Pixar films or most studio theatrical films these days. Someone has given thought to the depth of these characters. Even the villain has good reason for what he does.
This is a film with comedy, action, adventure, horror, and some very affecting human drama. It is an understatement to call it simply remarkable that it does all that it does. As good as films like FINDING NEMO are, more recent Pixar films show greater sophistication in their writing. For such a complex film to seem on the surface so simple is no mean feat. Credit should be given to Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich who wrote the film. I rate TOY STORY 3 a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. Some scenes might be scary for younger children, but did not seem to be with my audience. Perhaps young children are harder to scare today.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0435761/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/toy_story_3/
THE CITY & THE CITY by China Miéville (copyright 2009, Ballantine Books Del Rey, $15.00, trade paperback, 336pp, ISBN 978-0-345-49752-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I'm having way too much fun trying to find ways to describe these books that leave me speechless with regard to them being on the Hugo ballot. First there's BONESHAKER, which is horror with a bit of steampunk thrown in, or maybe it's steampunk with a bit of horror thrown in. Then there's THE WINDUP GIRL, which is a beautifully written novel that is indeed SF but I found a dreadful chore and bore to read. And now there's THE CITY & THE CITY, which I actually enjoyed--but in my opinion has no elements of the fantastic in it whatsoever. At least with THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION, if the reader squinted tightly enough that book could be seen as alternate history (it should be noted that *I* didn't see it that way). This book, I don't see here whatsoever.
What THE CITY & THE CITY is is a terrific crime story with an intensely interesting angle. Most of you probably know that angle already, but for those who don't, the setting is a physical location that has two cities--countries, actually--occupying it at the same time--Beszel and Ul Qoma. Some event occurred in the past that caused the schism. The area is broken up in various ways (crosshatch and alter come to mind - don't ask me to explain them), but the idea is that a person in one city may not notice or see anyone in the other city. If they accidentally notice someone in the other city, they must "unsee" them--act as if they didn't see them at all. If they fail to unsee, or purposely look at or notice someone in the other city intentionally (and don't get started on how all this works when there's an automobile accident), an act of Breach occurs. Breach is an act that is against the law, a group of people that enforce Breach laws, and a location. When an act of Breach occurs, "Breach" (the people) come and take away the people committing the Breach, who are typically never to be seen again. Children get special dispensation, as they are learning how to live in their city, and foreigners actually have a lengthy training course to go through before they are allowed in one city or the other, and they get a little leeway as well, because no amount of training can be the same as a lifetime of learning and living. Can you imagine how difficult it would be *not* to Breach when you're walking next to someone on the street who is actually in the other city--especially if you know them?
There is one way to legally travel between the two cities. There is a place in the middle of the physical location that functions as a gateway between the two as well as a meeting place for government leaders of both cities. Essentially, you can enter in one side of the place, pass through security, and turn around and be physically where you were at before, except in a different country.
So, this is a crime story, as I said. In fact, it's a murder mystery, and the victim is an archaeology student who is working at a dig in Ul Qoma. Apparently she has made many enemies because of her believe in a *THIRD* city, Orciny, which supposedly resides in between the other two cities. She's raised the ire of all sorts of folks everywhere. So, her body is found in Beszel, but it appears her murder occurred in Ul Qoma, thus making it a case of Breach. However, evidence arises that it's not Breach, and thus a detective from Beszel must travel to Ul Qoma to investigate the killing.
This is actually a quite clever book, and the story is well executed in the context of its setting. I couldn't find any logical flaws in the way things were laid out and handled. I really didn't get attached to any of the characters in anyway, but that was more than made up for by the good writing, excellent storytelling, and interesting concept. SF? No. Fantasy? No. Hugo nominee? Why, I have no idea.
If you want a good crime story, read this book. If you want good science fiction, skip it. [-jak]
[For what it's worth, in an article in "The Guardian" () http://tinyurl.com/367tcbs they write, "Miéville said that some people had questioned whether THE CITY AND THE CITY was really science fiction or fantasy. 'I think these debates are silly-- genre is a moveable feast, but some people do ask these questions,' he said. 'What I don't want to do is disavow the fantastic tradition I come from. This is a book from within the fantasy tradition, which hopefully can also be a perfectly faithful crime book--and a good book.'" -ecl]
[Miéville misuses the term "moveable feast." I have seen others misuse the phrase, but it does not mean just something that is inconstant. A moveable feast is a (usually Christian) holiday that is not on the same date each year. Easter is a moveable feast, but Christmas is not. It has come to be used to mean a portable feast of food. -mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I discussed the Hugo-nominated novellas (as well as making some comments about this year's Hugo nominations in general). This week I will cover the novelettes and short stories.
"Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky (tor.com 3/09) is about a robot learning about love. While the topic is interesting, it is not exactly new.
In "The Island" by Peter Watts (THE NEW SPACE OPERA 2), the protagonists are building gateways through space when they find themselves apparently in contact with an alien intelligence and become pawns in something they do not understand. Again, it just did not do much for me.
"It Takes Two" by Nicola Griffith (ECLIPSE THREE) has similarities to a lot of Greg Egan's work, particularly "Reasons to Be Cheerful" and "Oceanic". But where Egan focuses on the idea of how the biochemistry of the brain works, Griffith seems to concentrate on long descriptions of sexual activity. The idea may have been good, but I cannot rate the story very highly.
"One of Our Bastards is Missing" by Paul Cornell (THE SOLARIS BOOK OF NEW SCIENCE FICTION: VOLUME THREE) is one of those stories that is based on such a complicated set of ideas that one gets the feeling that only the author really follows it. (The same is true of some of Grge Egan's work.) It is an alternate history (but not too different--the ruling families of the Europe of its time seem pretty much the same as in our timeline) based on the idea of "folds" in the universe (wormholes, I guess, since they were supposedly discovered when Newton watched a worm crawling on an apple). These folds can be used for appearing, disappearing, transporting to distant locations, hiding weapons and other items, etc. Basically, they seem to be magic, albeit with rules, and the story a basic court intrigue tale.
"Overtime" by Charles Stross (tor.com 12/09) is another possible entry for my theoretical Christmas anthology. (To remind you, it already includes China Miéville's "'Tis the Season", Frederik Pohl's "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus", and Timothy Esaias's "Newton's Mass". Stross's story is much more tied to the present, though, than either Pohl's or Miéville's. Though it seems to be a bit of an alternate history--or maybe just set in a very near future--it has far more cultural referents than the other two. Stross mentions Tim Burton's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, has a reference to Charles Dickens's CHRISTMAS CAROL, and has a spot-on description of weather forecasters and other announcers who have such boring deliveries that you always mentally tune them out before they get to the part that you actually are interested in.
What can I say about "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)? It is a story that would not even have gotten published in the "Golden Age", and even now, most magazines would put a cautionary warning on it for language and adult themes. If I thought there were a point to the language and adult themes, I wouldn't object to them, but as it is I found this story both pointless and offensive.
My voting order would be: ""Overtime", It Takes Two"; No Award; "Eros, Philia, Agape"; "One of Our Bastards is Missing"; "The Island" by Peter Watts; "Sinner ..."
"The Bride of Frankenstein" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 12/09) is yet another riff on the Frankenstein legend, but fairly predictable and nothing new or startling.
"Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh (Asimov's 1/09), in my opinion, violates the "Rule of One": You are allowed one change, one scientific discovery, one invention, one whatever. "Bridesicle" has two: people can be effectively frozen and later thawed out (in fact, even partially thawed out, and repeatedly frozen), but also that personalities can "hitch a ride" in other people. You cannot explain this by saying that These are related technologies, but they do not seem to be. In addition, the story seems a bit contrived.
"The Moment" by Lawrence M. Schoen (FOOTPRINTS) is frequently unreadable: "A peer review chorus from the Trindle Journal of Medical Profundities convened to hold forth on a particularly truculent cantata by a novice gastroforensiologist. In itself this failed to impress--truculence being a common feature of digestive music, particularly among the newly initiated--but this specific alimentarian had sung the ironies of the scion of vegetable royalty succumbing to a fatal ingestion of long dead mnemonic ephemerals during a period of obscure history." What I was able to figure out was not exactly new or original either.
"Non-Zero Probabilities" by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09) is my kind of story. Suddenly, the laws of probability start to fail and anything that is at all possible (i.e., has a non-zero probability) will not just happen eventually, but will happen a lot sooner than that. Not only that, but charms (such as crossing your fingers or wearing a scapular) seem to work as well. I don't know why this sort of thing appeals to me, but it does. Maybe it reminds me of the Frederic Brown/Frederik Pohl/Robert Sheckley sort of 1950s semi-whimsical, semi-serious fantastical science fiction.
What can I say about "Spar" by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)? It is a story that would not even have gotten published in the "Golden Age", and even now, most magazines would put a cautionary warning on it for language and adult themes. If I thought there were a point to the language and adult themes, I wouldn't object to them, but as it is I found this story both pointless and offensive. (Sound familiar?)
My voting order would be: "Non-Zero Probabilities", No Award, "The Bride of Frankenstein", "It Takes Two", "The Moment", "Bridesicle", "Spar"
And all I can say in summation is that this year's selections seem to represent a massive shift away from the sort of fiction I like. Even in the novels, I would have rated only THE CITY & THE CITY and JULIAN COMSTOCK above No Award. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: General and abstract ideas are the source of the greatest errors of mankind. -- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
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