@@@@@ @ @ @@@@@ @ @ @@@@@@@ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/18/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 38, Whole Number 1641
Table of Contents
The History of SF:
Charles Harris points out in the following:
The history of science fiction in one huge graphic (enlarge by clicking on it): http://tinyurl.com/History-of-sf. [-csh]
Golf Is an Unusual Sport (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was discussing golf with friends and something--just an observation-- occurred to me. In most sports in which you compete against yourself you try to push yourself to run faster or to swim faster or just do more. Golf is there rare sport where you push yourself to exercise less, at least over a single game. A perfect game of golf would entail the least amount of walking possible and just 18 swings. [-mrl]
What Happened at Fukushima (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Years ago I used to debate with a friend about building nuclear power plants. I was anti-nuclear and he was pro-nuclear. When we got around to defining what we meant by our stances and where the differences are, we discovered that he meant by being anti-nuclear that we should be building nuclear power plants but we had to make sure that we were not endangering the public. I, on the other hand, thought that we had to make sure we were not endangering the public, but when we had done that we should go ahead and build the plants. Just defining where we stood ended the debate. But looking back on it, there really was a difference in our positions. If it turned out that there was even a tiny probability of an accident happening, we actually were on opposite sides. We can define safety measures to try to avert disasters, but just like the nuclear reactors are fallible, so are the safety measures we set up to prevent calamities. At Fukushima they did have a safety measure to make sure that meltdown would not occur. And if that measure failed they had a second safety measure. And if those two failed a third measure was in place.
So what actually happened at Fukushima? The uranium in the fuel rods are placed close enough together then there is enough radiation to split enough atoms to start a chain reaction. Atoms split and enough radiation is released to hit other atoms and split them and soon you have a lot of radiation being released. That energy takes the form of heat, which can boil water, which can run turbines. That is nuclear power.
You can handle the rods individually if you keep them separate. Or you can insulate them from each other with retractable control rods and water. The combination of the control rods and the water are enough completely to insulate the rods. Neither can do it without the other. In a reactor fuel rods are placed in nice neat patterns with water and retractable control rods separating, insulating, and cooling them so that a chain reaction does not start. The insulating control rods that can be raised into place and keep the fuel rods from irradiating each other or they can be dropped when you want to generate energy. Retract the control rods and the water starts heating. Without the insulation the temperature would go up to 1200 degrees. That is hot enough to melt the rods together so that they cannot be separated. Then you have an out- of-control nuclear reaction and disaster.
When the earthquake hit, the control rods did rise up and insulate the fuel rods from each other. The reaction was stopped. But the fuel rods were still hot. Water was needed to be pumped in to cool the rods down to a safe temperature. But like a lot of things that lost power in the quake, the water cooling systems had no power to pump in the cool water.
But have no fear there is a mechanism designed for just this sort of problem. There is a diesel-powered system to spray coolant onto the rods in the event the first system fails. This system has its own diesel fuel energy source and is intended for just such problems as the quake disabling the first system. That worked for an hour, but what happened then was the tsunami hit. It is not certain that that is the cause, but the diesel-powered system stopped. In the reactor the rods heated and the water turned to steam.
There was a third system. If too much heat is created a system takes the steam coming out, cools it, and returns it to the reactor where it cools the fuel rods. It worked just fine. It did cool the rods somewhat. And it added to the water in the reactor. But it did not return water to the reactor as fast as the water was boiling off. The water level in the reactor fell. The control rods were still in place, but water was also needed for insulation. Coolant was also supposed to be in the reactor, but it seems that in the quake or the tsunami there was structural failure. It was probably a leak, but the water and coolant leaked out of the reactor.
Three safety systems had failed and a fourth procedure was reluctantly used. Seawater was pumped into the reactor. This or a similar scenario has happened a second reactor at the same site. As of this writing there has been a partial meltdown of fuel rods. That is going to make the reaction very hard to stop. Explosions have taken place venting radioactive steam into the air. This problem is at this point getting worse as time goes by and not any better. So perhaps a discussion of what happened is premature.
My friend and I thought we were basically in agreement, but we really were not. He would have said that a scenario like this is extremely unlikely (though I thought that earthquakes and tsunamis sort of went together). Some risk is inevitable and the energy produced outweighs the risk. And he would have been wrong because he was over-estimating the ability to plan. Eventually you will get bitten by the risk and in the case of nuclear reactors you can be bitten badly.
I would have insisted on guarantees that scenarios like this are impossible and I would have been equally wrong. There are limits to the amount of planning that can be done. You cannot stop progress and stagnate because there is some danger involved.
My friend and I resolved nothing between us. But then nobody has ever resolved this issue.
The description of the disaster is based (heavily) on a very good CNN report that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/leeper-cnn-fukushima.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It seems that whenever new technology comes along, it gives us new capabilities--but also removes one or more capabilities that we have come to like.
For example, our first VCR was the old type with mechanical buttons ("piano keys"). This meant we could use the programming timer on it to turn it off in play mode at a specific time, just as one could turn it off in record mode. Effectively, this was a sleep timer--without it, a six-hour tape would play all the way to the end after you fell asleep and then you would have to try to find your place again. When VCRs switched to electronic buttons, this capability disappeared.
We had an analog cable converter at one point that was programmable--we could have it switch channels while we were away, so we could record shows on different channels overnight or while we were on vacation (e.g. PBS at midnight, then TCM at 4AM). Our next cable box was digital (I think), but no longer programmable, nor have any subsequent boxes been programmable.
We just bought a Blu-Ray DVD player. It will play Blu-Ray discs, but it will not play VCDs (which our regular DVD player will). It also does not have the ability to play DVDs at speeds between 0.6x and 1.4x with synchronized sound (again, our old player does). And it has problems with some DVDs that use the branching technology (e.g. it cannot play the unrated director's cut on the regular DVD release of the 2010 film THE WOLFMAN).
In addition, our regular DVD player has the ability to show "time remaining" by chapter or film. The Blu-Ray player does not. The best it can do is display both the total time and the elapsed time, leaving the viewer to do the arithmetic.
Another loss of capability is the loss of location memory. Our old DVD player would remember where we stopped a disc (up to a point-- if you played enough other DVDs after removing one, it will forget). This is handy for multi-episode series, or if you want to leave a film in the middle because it is late and you want to sleep. But the Blu-Ray player will only remember it until you remove the disc, or power off the player. So if you want it to remember where you are overnight, you have to leave the player on overnight, which in turn means bypassing the automatic shut-off after a period of inactivity.
The Blu-ray player also has a very silly default setting. One has a choice of saying that DVDs should be played with their original aspect ratio, or that they should played to fill the screen of the TV. The latter means that if you have a flat-screen HDTV (and one might guess that most people buying a Blu-Ray DVD player do), then everyone in an older movie done in 1.33:1 aspect ratio will seem short and fat, because the picture will be stretched horizontally to fill the screen. So which would you make the default setting? Well, Sony makes the latter the default setting. Apparently the same people who complained bitterly about black bars at the top and bottom of their old TVs with widescreen movies now hate black bars at the sides of their TVs with non-widescreen movies, and they seem to rule the roost.
On the other hand, the Blu-Ray player lets us access a lot of Internet content and display it on our TV, which is considerably larger than our computer screen. It says something about how out of touch I am with technology that I did not realize that Blu-Ray players provided this capability. But even more, when I first discovered this (which was when I saw on the box it was Netflix- enabled) I did not realize that what content one can access is dependent on the player. With a computer the entire Internet is available, though I suppose it is also true that some sites require special software to be downloaded. With the Blu-Ray player, the software is controlled by the manufacturer, so only certain sites are usable. And one minor limitation with Netflix is that you can play only movies already on your Instant Queue. [-ecl] [Every new system has its good points and its bad points. When we used to bring up a new system at Lucent we would it was standard that we would also release a report of "feature debt". Those are features that people had learned to love that had gone away. New systems are a mixed bag. They hopefully have a lot of overlapping capabilities, but frequently it is not all. Japans nuclear power plants produce electricity and under most conditions do not pollute as much as coal-powered plants. However, they also have drawbacks. -mrl]
NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary is by turns spectacular and moving. In one Chilean desert astronomers look for the origins of the universe, archeologist find preserved mummies from pre-Columbian culture, and the survivors of the 1973 Chile coup look for the remains of their loved ones. Do not expect a lot of scientific knowledge, but the political message is strong and sincere. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
In NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT Patricio Guzman looks at three kids of people who study the past in three very different ways. Their work brings them together in the Atacama Desert of Chile, nearly two miles above sea level. The unique conditions of this desert make it a special place for looking at the past is three different depths. One comes for the altitude, one for the dryness, and one for the history of what happened here. It soon become apparent that it is the political story that is the real reason for this documentary.
The altitude of the desert makes it a particularly good place for astronomical observatories. With less atmosphere above to distort observations these observatories offer a much better view of the starscape. Astronomers look at the cosmic light of the sky. The light that they see may have been traveling from the nearest stars for only a few years. Light from Proxima Centauri has traveled only 4.2 years. And some light that they see may go back to the beginnings of the universe. The light from the furthest light sources has travelled to the Earth since shortly after the time of the Big Bang.
The desert is the driest place on Earth because of the altitude. This preserves pre-Columbian artifacts like mummified remains of prehistoric peoples who passed this way. Archeologists come to this desert to study and dig for the artifacts of Pre-Columbian peoples.
But most importantly for director Guzman's purpose there is also recent history to be dug up here. In 1973 army general Augusto Pinochet took dictatorial control of the Chilean government after a coup d'etat that removed from power President Salvador Allende. There followed a reign of terror as Pinochet seized control and crushed his opposition. In the Atacama Desert prisoners of the Pinochet government were imprisoned in concentration camps and many were tortured and murdered. Along with the bodies of pre-Columbian dead out under the surface of the desert are the individual and mass graves those who were murdered by the military government as whose bodies were hidden.
This military coup has been the core of Patricio Guzman's films since his 2001 film THE PINOCHET CASE and his 2004 SALVADOR ALLENDE. Guzman begins by showing us the spectacular astronomical photographs taken from the Atacama Observatory and also beautiful desert photography. We are told that Atacama has the largest telescopes in the world. (That is not quite true. See below.) Interviews tell us of the work of the astronomers and their backgrounds, but the focus shifts to the people--mostly women are shown--who comb the desert looking for remnants of loved ones whom the Pinochet government brought to the high desert and murdered. Guzman's previous films tell the history of the coup in much more detail. Here he just collects interviews, mostly from the women searching for remains of husbands and children. But the astronomers and archeologists also discuss the political history and its implications.
Patricio Guzman shows his three communities of searchers, but from early on there is never any doubt what the real purpose of this film is. If you want to get a better understanding of space or archeology, National Geographic has some very good documentaries. If you want to better understand the Allende and Pinochet coup and the damage it did, Guzman's documentary SALVADOR ALLENDE is a good starting point, and I would assume his film THE PINOCHET CASE is equally as good. NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT is more about the irony of the three groups drawn to the same high desert. I rate NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/110. NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT will get its US release March 18, 2011.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1556190
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nostalgia_for_the_light/
List of Largest Telescopes: http://astro.nineplanets.org/bigeyes.html
Still More SF TV to Consider (television reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
We truly live in the golden age of SF, fantasy, and comic book TV. So far I have reviewed more than a half dozen shows, and new ones keep cropping up. Today we take a look at THE CAPE and BEING HUMAN, two shows that have started in the last few months.
THE CAPE has been running on NBC on Monday nights, and it appears that due to low ratings, the finale of the ten-episode run will appear in March on-line only. I am not totally surprised to hear this, as THE CAPE is far from the most engaging superhero show on TV right now, but it does have its moments.
The premise of THE CAPE is that a framed policeman left for dead is rescued by a circus of crime and is transformed into an unlikely crime fighter in return for some help in a few heists. He trains in the martial arts, slack-wire skills, hypnotism, and stage magic. Most importantly he is also gifted with "The Cape"--made of "spider silk" that can do some pretty amazing stuff, like protect the wearer from bullets and swing out to bop the bad guys. The cape is nominally a mere gadget, but there are hints that others have worn it before him, and that it may even have supernatural powers.
This sounds like a less than stellar premise, but it actually works fairly well. You end up with a Batman type hero who is acutely aware that he is *pretending* to be superhero. He soon finds a partner in "Orwell" (played by Summer Glau), a mysterious woman who functions something like Barbara Gordon/"Oracle" in the Batman comic, providing data support, a cool car, and sometimes a bit of physical backup.
The ads for the show say that great heroes require great villains, but herein lies the weakness of the show - the villains are a Dick Tracy rogues gallery with physical deformities--"The Litch" with a scared face and zombie drugs, "Goggles" with immense eyes, "Scales" with rough skin, and "Chess" with cat-like eyes and a split personality. The only interesting villain is woman with mentat- like abilities who can manipulate ordinary actions to commit crimes via her ability to extrapolate events. The plots very from decent pulp style adventure to hackneyed Dick Tracy crime stories. In particular, I ended up fast-forwarding through a lot of the "Litch" episodes which I found quite derivative.
The best parts of THE CAPE revolve around the Cape's relationship with his family who believe his former identity, the policeman, to be dead, but who he then starts to interact with as the Cape. The circus of crime also works well by providing the backup that a real life superhero would surely need, as well as a plausible training experience.
The net result is that THE CAPE is far from the worst TV has to offer, but clearly it has not found an audience, and it was pretty uneven. This is the type of show I would not recommend to everyone, but most comic fans will find it interesting.
BEING HUMAN is a far better and more engaging story than THE CAPE. A SyFy remake of a BBC show of the same name, it is worth taking a look at if you have any interest in speculative supernatural stories. However, I warn you that the SyFy version is far better than the BBC version. I have seen one hour of the BBC version, and I found it an unwatchable hash of crude British humor populated by boring British actors. The plot outlines of the BBC series episodes on Wikipedia are more or less along the lines of the SyFy show, but to my taste there is a vast gap between the two efforts, and much to the disfavor of the BBC.
The story brings together a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost who start by sharing an apartment and end up as a supernatural version of "Friends" with less comedy and more drama. The setup is that as magical beings, the vampire and the werewolf can see the ghost, but normal humans cannot. There is a lot of plot here, with the background of each character gradually and quite realistically unfolding as each seeks in their own way to lead as "human" a life as possible.
This is a violent show, with graphic sex [it is a cable show at 10 PM, after all], but the overall realism and seriousness of the show makes it easy to watch. The characters are likeable and engaging, and their struggles with their "conditions" inventive. A recurring theme is that although they each are striving to maintain as human a life as possible, at the core each is a monster, and this cannot be papered over or forgotten.
You can catch BEING HUMAN on Monday nights with an encore on Friday nights on SyFy.
To recap, THE CAPE is strictly for the serious comic fan, suggested for teenagers and older. BEING HUMAN is at least as interesting as VAMPRE DIARIES, and perhaps more so, but is suggested for older teens [16 and up] or adults due to realistic treatment of sexual themes and violence. [-dls]
Hugo Nominations (letter of comment by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
In response to Dan Kimmel's comments in the 03/04/11 issue on Dale Skran's recommendations for Hugo nominations in the 02/25/11 issue, Dale responds:
#1--My apologies for not mentioning INCEPTION. It turns out that for a variety of reasons I have not yet seen it, but based on input from those who have, including Mark Leeper and my son, Sam Skran, it appears to be an excellent film well deserving of consideration for the Hugo.
#2--I graciously accept your kind words relating to my position on the short form dramatic Hugo. Now if only we could convince the rest of fandom! [-dls]
RANGO and BARNEY'S VERSION (Ratings) (letter of comment by Rob Mitchell):
In response to Mark's reviews of RANGO and BARNEY'S VERSION in the 03/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes:
I note you rated two movies as 8/10 (RANGO and BARNEY'S VERSION), but the first you indicated was a high +2 and the second was a low +3. Okay, I can see that different scales might mesh such that the same point on one can map to two points on another, but it was a little surprising, especially since the RANGO review didn't seem that positive. (I guess that's why it was only a high +2 rather than a low +3, eh?)" [-rlm]
You are right about my rating system. I think in the -4 to +4 scale and then translate that to a 0 to 10 scale for those who are more used to it:
+4 is 10/10 high +3 or +3 is 9/10 low +3 or high +2 is 8/10 +2 or low +2 is 7/10, etc.
You raise an interesting point about the rating seeming higher than the wording. Roger Ebert and other critics say look at the words and not the rating. I actually am the other way around. On my reviews trust the number more than the words. Here's why. TITANIC is an example of a film I rated highly and wrote a mostly negative review. Why? Because I am not likely to be the only reviewer someone will read. I could have talked about the same virtues that every other review had or I could point out things like the water was rising parallel to the ceiling where Jack was being held prisoner while on deck there was a sizable tilt. That is impossible in a (at that point) rigid boat. I at least try to write what other people might not notice, but the rating expressed what I really felt. [-mrl]
TRUE GRIT, BLACKOUT, ALL CLEAR, and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Taras Wolansky's comments on TRUE GRIT in the 03/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
One night, Sarah went next door for a sleepover. Cathy and I looked at each other and decided to nip out for dinner and a movie. She doubted there were any good movies, but I mentioned TRUE GRIT and she agreed. Having read the book long enough ago that it's been replaced by the original movie in my mind, I couldn't say where the Coen version is closer to it. I was, however, interested at how many scenes seemed nearly identical in dialog and action.
I'm fairly sure the Coen's movie deviated from the book [SPOILER warning] at the scene in a certain pit, when the first person Mattie sees after she cries out is not who showed up in this version. The harrowing ride at the end may well have been in the book; I just don't remember any more. I should do something about that. [end of SPOILER warning] [-kw]
Evelyn responds, "Yes on your first point, and the ride was in the book." [-ecl]
Also, the ending which told you what happened to the principal characters in succeeding years was left out of the John Wayne version. And that omission was much to the story's detriment even if including it does leave the story on a sadder note. [-mrl]
In response to Evelyn's review of BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR in the same issue, Kip writes:
I enjoyed it, digressions and all. The length and some of the criticized subplots Evelyn saw as padding served to put me into the action (or inaction) in a way that conveyed the mounting frustration of the time travelers, which in turn conveyed the mounting frustration of those who experienced the war naturally. By laying it on as she did, I think Willis makes it an immersive experience.
I, too, would have appreciated a clearer indication that this was a novel in two books. I knew it was, because Cathy knew, but I don't think she got the information from the book itself. I wonder how many people picked up the second book without knowing about the first.
[SPOILER warning?] The final scenes remind me somewhat of the ending of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, which I loved. [end SPOILER warning?] [-kw]
Incidentally, I'm just now re-reading THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, by Victor Hugo (thanks to Stephen Des Jardines and Distributed Proofreaders for what is, so far, an immaculate Project Gutenberg e-text), and if long digressions bothered me, I'd probably just go to the "Classics Illustrated" version. (And this is not a slam on the comic, which first made me want to read the book. Indeed, the "Classics Illustrated" version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is the only adaptation I've ever seen that didn't betray the author's intent by changing characters into plaster saints and paper villains.) [-kw]
The version of NOTRE DAME D' PARIS that least betrays the author's intent is the Anthony Quinn version. It leaves intact Hugo's wrenching epilog. I saw it at age 6 or 7 and the ending stuck with me ever after. When I read the book I realized it was the only version that got the ending right. Incidentally, just renaming the book THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is a spoiler. It is not clear the book is about Quasimodo until well into the story. [-mrl]
The Constitution (letters of comment by Dale L. Skran, Jr., and Rob Mitchell):
In response to Evelyn's comments on liberals, conservatives, and the Constitution in the 03/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dale writes:
I consulted with my sister, who knows a bit about these things (Rhodes Scholar, Oxford Ph.D., Professor of Government) and I net out the following comments. Although I sympathize with the original columnist's thesis that leftists are often led by great leaders as opposed to documents, objectively this view is not well supported by the historical record, the recent example of the adulation of Obama notwithstanding. With regard to the view that leftists do not refer back to a common set of great works, I suggest (with kudos to my sister, who suggested the idea) that American [and this is very important, as things elsewhere are quite different] leftists do refer to a great document--the Constitution. It is just different parts than American conservatives venerate. For example, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are major leftist themes, and leftists draw a lot of their energy from the first amendment. The commerce clause (Article 1) is also an ur- text used to justify a wide range of left-wing initiatives. Many relatively recent amendments, including the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 19th could also be regarded as left-wing ur-texts. This should not be taken to suggest that American leftists venerate the Constitution in the same fashion as American conservatives--this is untrue as the left will always hold slavery and the inequality of women against the founding fathers. However, I do think that the American left gets a great deal of energy and coherency from ideas enshrined in the Constitution and various amendments thereof. [- dls]
And Rob Mitchell writes:
Evelyn, it's your e-zine and you can put whatever you want in it, of course. However, I felt the "Comments on Liberals, Conservatives, and the Constitution" was out-of-place. Politically, I'm on the anarchist end of the small-l libertarian spectrum, so I found nothing to disagree with in the article you wrote. However, I had two problems with it. One, although I acknowledge you and Mark have occasionally made political commentary in the MT VOID, it was usually in service of a larger point in a broader article. Even so, I tend to skim through those articles, because I read the MT VOID for the comments on books and movies. To my taste, an article of purely political commentary has no place in the MT VOID. The second problem was, no matter how much I might agree with the content of your article, it seems intellectually suspect to pull quotes from an article, set them up as a straw man, and knock them down--without giving the reader even a chance to see the whole article. It's like you were picking a fight, and that left a bad taste in my mouth.
I did give a link to the original article for those who wanted to read it in its entirety. However, consensus seems to be that politics is best left out of the MT VOID in the future. [-ecl]
And Mark adds:
Evelyn and I do not always agree on editorial decisions on the VOID. I thought Evelyn's piece was not general enough to be an editorial. It was basically a rebuttal to an editorial that the readers had not seen. However, both Evelyn and you pointed out that I do on occasion make political comments and it is hard to draw the line between that and this. Then I not only acquiesced, I added a comment of my own. But I think you pretty well nailed the same objections I had. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I finally got a chance to read THE CARDINAL POINTS OF BORGES edited by Lowell Dunbar and Ivar Ivask (ISBN 0-8061-0984-X). I had requested it through inter-library loan last May, and it arrived a couple of days into our trip to Arizona in February. (Luckily, they held it until I got back.) It is primarily essays about Jorge Luis Borges and his work but also includes a poem by Borges, three poems in honor of Borges and a "complete bibliography of literary criticism pertaining to Borges"--well, complete as of 1971, but now of course woefully out of date.
The best article by far is "At Work with Borges" by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. In it, di Giovanni describes the process of translating Borges into English, both in general and then specifically for the story "Pedro Salvadores". I will admit I am not all that familiar with the literature about the process of translating, but I would imagine this would be a very valuable and basic work.
For example, di Giovanni writes, "We agree ... that a translation should not sound like a translation. We agree that words having Anglo-Saxon roots are preferable to words of Latin origin--or, to put it another way, that the first English word suggested by the Spanish should usually be avoided (for instance, for 'solitario,' not 'solitary' but 'lonely'; for 'rigido,' not 'rigid' but 'stiff'; or, taking an illustration Borges likes to use, not 'obscure habitation' but 'dark room')."
In the explanation of "Pedro Salvadores", di Giovanni talks about how they overcame the problem of how to transmit to an American and English audience the allusions that an Argentine audience would get immediately. The Battle of Caseros, the "mazorca", the Unitarians, and blue china are as meaningful to Argentinians as the Battle of Bull Run, the Redlegs, the Unionists, and red, white, and blue china would be to us, yet just as Argenineans would probably not understand the allusions to these without help, we do not understand Borges's allusions. One doesn't want just to drop footnotes into the story, but neither does one want to add more text than is necessary, since the entire story is eight paragraphs long, less than two pages.
THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL: A WEIRD WEST TALE by Mike Resnick (ISBN 978-1-61614-249-0) is set in Tombstone in 1881. Our main characters here are the Earps, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, Johnny Ringo, Katie Elder, Curly Bill Brocius, Doc Holliday, Geronimo, Ned Buntline, and Thomas Edison. In this steampunk version of the tale, Indian magic works--or at least works well enough to keep the United States bottled up east of the Mississippi. One wonders, of course, why this Tombstone is so much like our Tombstone without the United States taking the Southwest from Mexico and then settling it, but I suppose one is not supposed to ask that question. (The first rule of alternate history is, "When things are different, things are different.")
Anyway, Bat Masterson runs afoul of Geronimo and his magic, while Johnny Ringo is the recipient of another Indian leader's magic. Edison is busy inventing very useful items for the locale (including lightweight brass armor and robot prostitutes), and Buntline builds them. (I get the feeling that these robots may not have been programmed with Asimov's Three Laws.) All in all, it's a lot of fun, even if the basic premise makes no sense. (I will say that it will probably appeal more to fans of Western movies and Western history than to the average science fiction reader, because knowing who all the people are is really helpful.)
(Oh, and the Alexander Award listed in the "About the Author" part? That was an award given by the science fiction group at Bell Laboratories, and is named after Alexander Graham Bell.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I feel that philosophy will never lead to important discoveries. It's just a way of talking about discoveries which have already been made. --Paul Dirac
Go to my home page