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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/08/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 15, Whole Number 1618
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
October 14 (Thu): INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS by Jack Finney, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 1956 film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and book after film October 21 (Thu): EVER SINCE DARWIN by Stephen Jay Gould, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 18 (Thu): IDORU by William Gibson, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
[The Middletown Public Library is doing their annual counts of their discussion groups in October, so if you want to see this group continue, please try to attend the October meeting. -ecl]
Eleven Astounding Sci-Fi Predictions That Came True:
Spartan Democracy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is an interesting fact that in Sparta voting was not done by ballots but by shouting. The proposition that receives the loudest shouts wins. This makes very difficult the administration of absentee ballots. One interesting effect is that it helps to roll out the old ways and being change. A twenty-year old nitwit can yell louder than two wise old men. If you have laryngitis you lose your franchise. [-mrl]
Really Bizarre Optical Illusion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If you want to see a really good optical illusion, one that is very counter-intuitive, go to http://leepers.us/optical_illusion.gif.
Note that all the dots are pink and form a circle around the cross. None of them are any other color. Now stare directly at the cross. What happens to the dots?
This may be the most confounding optical illusion I have ever seen. If someone has a good explanation for what is happening, I would love to hear it. [-mrl]
Reevaluating Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A reader asks me if there are films that I think I rated wrongly, either rating too highly or too low. Apparently he does not agree with a rating or two, which is par for the course. The answer is going to be "no, I have never been wrong in a rating" but that is not as pompous as it sounds. Let me explain before I say no. One of my reviews is one person's impression of a film on a single viewing. Generally it is the first viewing. But in any case what I give really is my impression of the film on that many viewings. That does not mean that I would have the same impression today or even that I would have the same impression on a second viewing. But then I am assuming that the reader I am writing for would want to know if the film was good on a first viewing. Some films could be studied in depth and would get better (or worse). But it is the first-time viewer I really am writing for.
Some films I see strike me one way when I first see them and either the virtues or the faults predominate. Further thought may cause me to give a different rating. Some films I am just indifferent to initially, but on the second or third viewing they stand up and get better. Films that I think are better than I thought they were initially in my original review include RESTORATION and GALAXY QUEST. I thought both were decent films, but both improved for me on subsequent viewings. RESTORATION particularly is for me today a much better film than I thought originally. It is an excellent recreation of London in the 1660s. That is the reign of Charles II and the recently restored monarchy. The main character is Robert Merivale, played by Robert Downey Jr., trained but discouraged as a physician, he becomes a playboy in the Court of Charles II, but his world is turned upside-down and he is cast out and sees how the less advantaged live in the England during turbulent times, which include the Plague Year of 1665 and the Great London Fire of 1666. And the character of Merivale and what happens to him is as interesting as the time. If I were rating this film again, I would probably give it a high +3 instead of the high +1 I gave it (-4 to +4 scale).
Sometimes a few days after seeing a film I will start to have doubts about how I rated a film. I would say a week after seeing INCEPTION (when I wrote these comments) the good points are still there, but the films faults stick out in my mind more. After a half summer without much intelligence in the films being released it had interesting ideas with these nested dream worlds, but it seems to me these rules about the dreams are a complete fabrication. With a world full of people dreaming every night, it is surprising how bad cinema is in accurately portraying the dreaming experience. Christopher Nolan gives us this rule that there are three levels of dreams within dreams, each with a different timescale. And if you wander in too deeply you are in danger of never coming out. There are extremely few gun battles in *my* dreams. Nolan is not describing my dreaming; he is defining a videogame. That is interesting, but it does not reflect anything real. I think it is a good fantasy film, but unlike his THE PRESTIGE I have little desire to see it again. THE PRESTIGE had more interesting and better-developed characters. I could get involved in what the characters were doing. INCEPTION is a film that I can see was complex, but does not have the ideas to draw me in. I would rather keep it at a distance. I think Nolan should limit his action films to the Batman films. And even in the two Batman films it is not his strong suit. Right now I would probably rate INCEPTION lower than I did just a few weeks ago. Of course if I was to see the film again, I could be reminded of what made me like the film in the first place.
The problem is that a film is a good deal more than a point on a rating scale. It is a whole landscape. Do I rate INCEPTION on its engaging ideas or its un-engaging characters? Without seeing the film again, I would probably not say I want to change the rating. But it is hard to remember what were the good points that earned a high +2 from me? It is hard to remember at this point. [-mrl]
Second-Person Narratives (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Philip Chee):
In response to Evelyn's comments on second-person narratives in the 10/01/10 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams, writes:
There was a second-person horror story in a collection, possibly Boris Karloff's TALES OF THE FRIGHTENED (there's Boris again), where everything is being told to the reader who apparently participated in these awful events, and has now forgotten them. The title is similar enough to "The House of Blue Leaves" that once I heard of the latter, I couldn't remember the former any more.
It might have been a different paperback I had around the same time. I'm getting an impression these stories are all by Michael Avallone; also Amazon is not enlightening as to the table of contents, and the copy of the book that I had was lent around 1982 to a speech coach who surprised us all by absconding, and I don't recall getting the book back. (Say, I've forgotten my name again. Could you look at the tag on my shirt for me?)
um, Kip W.
Yeah, that's it.
And Philip Chee adds, "And of course I've recently read HALTING STATE by Charles Stross told almost entirely in the second person." [-pc]"
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
AND GOD SAID by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (ISBN 978-0-312-56558-9), about Bible translation, would seem to have no connection to science fiction. (Fantasy, perhaps, but that's another issue.) But in his introduction, talking about how seriously people take Bible translations, Hoffman writes [asterisks indicate Hoffman's italics]:
"... in the fall of 1993, a Yale student named Kevin Wilson began a project to translate the Bible into Klingon. ... Wilson's team included nearly a dozen scholars, among them Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen, who had already earned a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and the Reverned Professor Glen Proechel, then a Spanish instructor at the University of Minnesota. But Professor Proechel ended up quitting the translation project in protest, arguing that *Dr. Schoen was doing it wrong*. 'It's not going to make any sense,' the way Wilson's gang was doing it, he told THE WALL STREET JOURNAL in June of 1994, explaining that Klingons' 'mode of thought is quite different.'" There are no Klingons, there is no Klingon thought, and except for what linguist Dr. Marc Okrand invented for the 1984 movie STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, there is no Klingon language. But that didn't stop too qualified academicians from taking their vehement disagreement to the media."
That said, Hoffman then proceeds to spend quite a bit of time talking about translation problems in general, sometimes using the Bible for his examples, but often not. He also uses modern Hebrew, but that is pure coincidence. For example, modern Hebrew has two words for blue: "kachol" for dark blue, "t'chelet" for light blue. How would one translate into Hebrew a line of a poem that read in English, "and two blue blocks, one light, one dark"? (However, Hoffman's claim that we have something similar in English, with light red being "pink" is not entirely convincing--after all, he just used the words "light red" to define "pink", so clearly the words "light red" have a meaning to us.)
[And in a previous MT VOID I raised the question how would you translate into Hebrew the song lyric, "You say good-bye, but I say hello"? -mrl] AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS by Oliver Sacks (ISBN 978-0-679-43785-7) is a collection of essays on neurology and related fields. In "To See and Not See", about a man who regains his sight after almost an entire lifetime without it, Sacks quotes another researcher with a way of describing blindness that could have been the inspiration (but probably wasn't) for Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life": "[Alberto] Valvo comments, 'The real difficulty here is that simultaneous perception of objects is an unaccustomed way to those used to sequential perception through touch.' We, with a full complement of senses, live in space and time; the blind live in a world of time alone."
The centerpiece of AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS is the title essay. "An Anthropologist on Mars" is by Oliver Sacks, but the title originates with its primary subject, Temple Grandin, an expert on animal behavior who is also perhaps the best-known "high- performing" person with autism. Sacks sees these two aspects of Grandin as somewhat paradoxical, since one of the effects of autism is that it makes it difficult--in fact, often impossible--for its victims to comprehend the meaning of many human behaviors. For example, someone with autism could see another person crying and not realize that meant that the person was sad (or, again paradoxically, happy). In fact, they might not even be able to explain what "sad" or "happy" was. Hence, Grandin describes herself as being like "an anthropologist on Mars." Not surprisingly, a lot of people with autism who are science fiction fans are big fans of Mr. Spock and Data in "Star Trek".
Autism has another (or perhaps it's really the same) aspect: people with autism see the world "slightly skewed". Grandin looks at the night sky and doesn't see (or even understand) any of the usual poetic images people without autism see. But this is not one- sided: what she sees is not something that those without autism can understand either.
All of this seems very connected to the whole idea of the Museum of Jurassic Technology (which I described/reviewed in 2005 on my web page at http://www.leepers.us/evelyn/mjt.htm), where everything is slightly "off" from our understanding of the world. And autism has another relation to Jorge Luis Borges's stories, in that those with autism often have unusual memories, perhaps not as complete as those of the character Funes, but certainly more so than the average person's. For example, if you ask someone how many cars were in the store's parking lot, they might answer, "About fifty." But someone with autism might well reply, "Twenty-one black, twelve beige, four red, two blue, and one green." At one point when Grandin gave directions to Sacks, he stopped her and asked about the last direction, at which point she repeated *the entire set* of directions from the beginning.
Coincidentally, about a week after I read "An Anthropologist on Mars", I saw the HBO film TEMPLE GRANDIN, which made clear a few more details about being an anthropologist on Mars. The really key point is that Grandin was the first person with autism to tell the rest of us what life was like to people with autism--what they saw, what they felt, how they thought. Throughout the film, you see visual images of how Grandin's mind works, and you see a lot of doctors and other "experts" on autism who are completely wrong in what they believe.
Assume you are given a sequence of numbers and asked to provide the next number. For example, "2, 4, 6". Is the next number 8 (the nth term is 2n)? Is it 10 (the nth term is 2 times the nth non- composite number, or the nth term is 1 less than the n+1th prime)? Is there some other more complicated rule? That was the sort of guesswork the doctors were doing. Grandin was able to tell them the rules.
[ http://chesswanks.com/pot/IntelligenceTest.jpg -mrl]
In science fiction terms, what we are seeing is a first contact situation. By this, I don't mean that those with autism are a separate species, but that their mode of thinking is so unusual that there is a certain parallel to such a meeting. And rather than just observing and guessing, people could ask Grandin (and eventually others) what was going on in their minds. (For example, one of the things people have said about teaching other primates sign language is that we might be able to ask a gorilla *why* gorillas beat their chests. Two-way communication is irreplaceable.)
[The film TEMPLE GRANDIN is reviewed in last week's VOID http://leepers.us/grandin.htm -mrl]
(The essay "To See and Not See" also has references to Borges in its footnotes.)
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows. -- Epictetus (c.55-c.135)
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