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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/01/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 40, Whole Number 1643
Table of Contents
In response to Mark's comments on exo-planets in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, David Leeper writes:
The latest MT VOID has 4/3 pi r-squared for sphere volume ... you mean r-cubed, no?
A good way to count your picky, picky readers, eh? I think it's an old Talmud teacher's trick! [-dgl]
Mark responds, "Oops. Yes, that is a typo. Actually there are a lot of places where intentional errors are made. When logarithm tables are published frequently there are intentional errors around the 10th-decimal place. If those same errors show up in someone else's published set of tables it proves that they plagiarized. Google supposedly lays similar traps in their results and it has been claimed that they caught Bing using Google results. But if you know how I feel about mathematics you know I would never give an intentionally wrong mathematical formula. http://tinyurl.com/leeper-bing-google" [-mrl]
April 14 (Thu): ON THE BEACH by Nevil Shute, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of the book and 1960 film after film April 21 (Thu): STIFF by Mary Roach, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 26 (Thu): CITIZEN IN SPACE by Robert Sheckley, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Names (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Does it mean something that in the West we put a person's personal name before his or her family name, while in the East the family name takes precedence? [-ecl]
Second Life (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been reading about the game virtual world called "Second Life." I don't get it. Are the virtual people you meet in Second Life somehow better than the people you would meet in non-virtual worlds Real Life or Reality (both games free and in public domain and have been since the dawn of time)? If there are better people in Second Life, I want to know from what world are they getting them. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly guide to intriguing film artifacts on Turner Classic Movies. Some of the films are too good to miss and others are just for completists of one sort or another. For a while it looked like this would have been one of my last guides. TCM changed the format of their website and it looked like we were not able to get the program list well in advance. It took a little work, but I did find where to look in the current interface to see about three months in advance what is coming up. There is no direct link, but I can trick up a URL to find the information I needed.
All times listed below are Eastern Daylight Time.
We tend to think of older films as being rather sedate and slow. Actually, before the Motion Picture Code came in they could be really violent and/or scary even by today's standards. This month's listing starts with two 1932 films that show just how far films could go and both are still strong stuff today.
The month starts with KONGO (1932), a horror film that few people have ever heard of, but it remains an effective piece 79 years later. One reason they could go so far with the horror was that this was before the Code, which regulated what films could see. When sound came in there was some thought of making talking remakes of Lon Chaney silent horror films. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT was remade as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. THE UNHOLY THREE was remade under the same title. And the very dark melodrama WEST OF ZANZIBAR was remade as KONGO with Walter Huston in the Lon Chaney role. A man who is crippled by another works out a fiendish revenge on the other man's daughter. This is all set in darkest and most politically incorrect Africa. Maltin warns "not for the squeamish" and he is quite right. (Wednesday, April 6, 4:15 PM)
If you mention the film SCARFACE (1932) most people will start picturing Al Pacino living large and dying violently. That film is a remake of a film that had the much same impact in its time. The original SCARFACE is well worth seeing. The remake pretty much followed the same plot as the original. The 1932 version is about the rise and fall of Tony Camonte. Paul Muni plays Camonte and Ann Dvorak is his sister. Boris Karloff took time out from playing in horror films to play a thug. Ben Hecht was the major writer of the screenplay. The director was Howard Hughes and he was no joke. It was co-directed by Richard Rosson. (Saturday, April 30, 9:00 AM)
This next one is a personal favorite with me. Donald Hamilton is best known for the Matt Helm spy novels (which are actually fairly good and not at all like the films) but were horribly adapted for the screen. Hamilton also wrote the western THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) and it was adapted to film by William Wyler and was one of the great westerns. I love a big sprawling Technicolor Western and the biggest and sprawlingest is THE BIG COUNTRY. Gregory Peck is a sea captain engaged to the daughter of a cattle baron. He comes west to meet his prospective father-in-law and to get married. As a man who tries to avoid fighting he is immediately marked as a coward by the local cow hands in a place where ones status is measured by how well he can fight. At the same time he becomes the keystone in a range war between two patriarchs: once played well by Charles Bickford and the other terrifically by Burl Ives who won a much- deserved Oscar for his performance. Also featured are Charleton Heston and Jean Simmons. Heston nearly turned down the role as Bickford's foreman. He said he would not play a secondary role. His agent told him he was crazy to turn down a chance to work with William Wyler. Heston swallowed his pride and took the foreman role. In Wyler's next film he had Heston star as Ben-Hur. (Thursday, April 28, 5:00 PM)
DAUGHTER OF HORROR (1957) is not recommendable to anyone but a completist. This film's main claim to fame, however, is that it is featured in THE BLOB. It is the bizarre film that the teenagers are watching at the movie theater as the Blob oozes through the grate (unsuccessfully) to engulf them. The film has some interest in that the only words spoken are by the narrator. That narrator happens to be Ed McMahon, the long time denizen of the Tonight Show and TV representative of Publishers' Clearing House. (Saturday, April 16, 2:00 AM)
(Incidentally, THE BLOB (1958) was scheduled for Saturday, April 9, 4:00 AM. That showing has dropped out of their posted schedule, and been replaced by THE GREEN SLIME (1969).) [-mrl]
JUDAS UNCHAINED by Peter F. Hamilton (copyright 2006; audiobook copyright 2008; 40 hours, 59 minutes; narrated by John Lee) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
That was my thought as the final words of JUDAS UNCHAINED drifted from my iPod to my ears. I was completely blown away. Why? Simple, really. As I mentioned in my review of PANDORA'S STAR in March of 2010, this is the kind of stuff that had me running to bookstores and libraries looking for all the science fiction I could find. Space battles, aliens, galactic civilizations, romance, political intrigue, conspiracies, you name it. I love it. This is the stuff that we grew up loving. This is the stuff of our personal Golden Age of science fiction. This is the sense of wonder stuff that is missing. This is the stuff the most people aren't writing any more. And this is the stuff that will cause me to read and listen to Peter F. Hamilton long after I've given up on any other author out there.
Okay, I guess I've gushed quite a bit. So, what's the deal? Well (and it's uncanny how close to a year ago I wrote the review of PANDORA'S STAR, come to think of it), when last we left the story the Commonwealth was under attack by the Primes, in particular one MorningLightMountain. If you remember, humans out of the Commonwealth travelled to the Dyson Pair to determine why Dyson Alpha and Beta disappeared. They were imprisoned inside a barrier that was put there because, well, they wanted to destroy every race in the galaxy that wasn't them. As we join the story, 23 planets of the Commonwealth have been taken over by the Primes, with another 40+ bunch to come. We find out that the Starflyer is real, the Guardians of Selfhood were right, there are a multitude of Starflyer agents throughout the Commonwealth, and that someone not only in the Navy, but on the original mission of the Second Chance (which ended up dropping the barrier around Dyson Alpha), is a Starflyer Agent. And the human race looks like it's going to go down.
As a certain football analyst says, "Not so fast."
After all, we, the human race, are the good guys. We, the human race, always prevail. We, the human race, always do it the *right way* (and that's the closest I'm coming to a spoiler in this review). We do it with ingenuity, inventiveness, and a way to save our own souls.
As with PANDORA'S STAR, this is a big book. And the tendency, as with PANDORA'S STAR, is to say that this book is too big, and that it can and should be shorter. After all, I said this after I read PANDORA'S STAR. On the other hand, this is a big story with big scope and lots of characters and all sorts of cool stuff going on. Hamilton takes time to develop his characters, even his minor ones. Hamilton's style is easy to follow, and his prose is clear. Does he overdo it sometimes? Well, yes. I forgive him. This is big stuff with big ideas. *This* is what I started reading SF for.
Not enough can be said about the reader, John Lee. He manages to pull off multiple characters, both male and female, and deliver the grand sense of scope and wonder this novel is trying to convey. I'd love to listen to more audiobooks read by him.
Is this for everyone? Of course not. I get that. But this is my kind of stuff. If more writers wrote this kind of stuff than what is being written today, I might actually enjoy reading the Hugo nominees every year. [-jak]
THE LINCOLN LAWYER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Brad Furman directs John Romano's screenplay based on the Michael Connelly novel. A sleazy lawyer has to tread a tricky path to fulfill the law, his responsibility to his client, and his idea of justice in a cleverly plotted legal thriller. Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey), is the kind of a lawyer who gives the profession a bad name. He is good at the law and uses it to squeeze the maximum fees from his wealthy clients. When he gets the case of defending a magnate's son charged with rape and assault he finds himself in a tight legal bind that could force him to protect a killer or even get himself killed. This is a tightly- written thriller that at the same time creates a tricky legal puzzle. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Mickey Haller (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a totally unscrupulous lawyer who flaunts his wealth by tooling around Los Angeles in the back seat of a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Continental that he uses as a mobile office. His clients tend to be people who can afford to pay well but are not exactly the country club set. Haller is hired to defend someone not from the underbelly, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), whose mother is a wealthy real estate tycoon. Roulet is accused of beating and raping a prostitute. Louis insists he is innocent and Haller is afraid he might be. Haller's one decent chord is that he does not want an innocent client to be convicted. He would rather have to defend a guilty client than to risk an innocent client go to prison.
Haller has private investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) investigating to get useful information for the defense, and the information collected reminds Haller of a previous case in which his client was found guilty. Perhaps he can prove both clients innocent at the same time.
If Haller is the hero of this piece he is a very flawed one. He treats his own clients with the same ruthlessness that he treats his courtroom opponents, even if with clients he covers over it with honey. Even when he is doing what appears like a favor for someone he is calculating it to line his own pockets. He gives nice Christmas gifts, but they are investments, and he knows he will get back something even bigger in return. McConaughey plays Haller oily and slick. As a perfect contrast William H. Macy plays his private investigator friend. He goes around with unkempt shoulder-length hair and lives in a cheap, unkempt apartment. He does not look like he is getting a very big piece of Haller's action. Also along for the ride is Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomai), a former Mrs. Haller, the mother of Haller's daughter, a frequent courtroom opponent, but still a life-time friend. This characterizes Haller, but it has a sort of unique role in the plot. It is not that it is important, but that it is less important than other aspects. As I said this is a tightly written script and just about everything that happens will fit into the plot and actually be important later. The viewer needs to be on guard to pick up everything that happens. This is not as true of sequences with Maggie. They are a moment's relaxation for writer John Romano and probably for Michael Connelly, who wrote the novel.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a script that operates like clockwork, complex and everything contributing to the story. After a period of Matthew McConaughey coasting in his career, this is a role with some meat in it. And the film is a good piece of entertainment. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1189340/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lincoln_lawyer/
CAT RUN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Everyone wants to get their hands on the computer hard drive with incriminating information about arms dealers, gangsters and politicians who party with high-priced night ladies. Catalina, a high-class call girl has the drive and two neophyte private detectives are trying to protect her. She is being chased by the host of very dangerous people including a ruthless assassin who could be mistaken for Helen Mirren. This is the modern equivalent of classic action comedies like FOUL PLAY. Made for today it just is more chaotic, has more nudity, and had more violence including some slightly nauseating scenes of torture. Otherwise the film is funny and fun, a fast, entertaining ride. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
To begin with there are a whole bunch of characters, mostly unsavory. There are so many that each time a new one is introduced the film stops and we see title insert telling us who the character is and three or four bullet items telling us about him. There's the Loner, the Enforcer, the Pervert, and probably twelve others. But don't worry there are only a few the viewer needs to track. The Exhibitionist is Catalina "Cat" Rona (played by Paz Vega of SPANGLISH), a high-priced call girl hired for a party of super- wealthy sleazebags--you know, arms dealers, Russian Mafia, Congressmen. As the film opens she is arriving at a "festivity". When nobody is looking she filches a computer hard drive that has incriminating evidence against the whole crowd.
Meanwhile we meet two guys in their late 20s who are looking for what to do with their lives. One is the Loner, Anthony Hester (Scott Mechlowicz), who is a failing restaurateur with a little Sherlock Holmes in him. The other one is Anthony's childhood friend, the Extrovert, Julian Simms (Alphonso McAuley), ladies man and, well, "ladies man" pretty much covers it. Together they decide to establish a detective agency. Their first case is to find the missing Catalina Rona. They have to find her and later will have to protect her. Also throw into the chase the dignified and very polite Helen Bingham (Janet McTeer) who just happens to be an assassin out of your worst nightmare. Finding Rona will be not nearly as difficult as keeping her alive. The chase will take the detectives through Eastern Europe.
Director John Stockwell gets from a generally unfamiliar cast performances more than sufficient to carry the story. Particularly good was Alphonso McAuley, who has a sort of Chris Rock charm. Even better was Janet McTeer doing a credible Helen Mirren impression mixed with flashes of Christian Szell of MARATHON MAN. Hers is definitely the standout role of the film. Mechlowicz and McAuley have a sort of chemistry that handles well the repartee of the script by Nick Ball and John Niven. One veteran actor is recognizable, Christopher McDonald, the TV host from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, whose over-the-top masculine looks are perfect for the sleazy Congressman. Ball's and Niven's writing generally holds up fairly well in the first two acts. The third act is a little familiar.
CAT RUN was obviously made for the Saturday night crowd and for that sort of audience it certainly does deliver. Don't bring the kids; the violence is a little strong. But between the repartee and the odd cast of nasties this film is a good time. It does have a slick and sassy mix of dark comedy and crime plot. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446147/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/cat_run/
IVAN THE TERRIBLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: How better to start April than getting out of the way Eisenstein's great quasi-historical pseudo-epic IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Parts I and II)? You won't learn much history but you will be able to tell people you've seen it.
It has come time to review another undiscovered classic of early film. This one shows up on public television every once in a long while but has been completely forgotten by anyone who doesn't watch PBS. The film is really two Soviet films by Serge Eisenstein, IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Part I) and IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Part II). It is difficult to decide if this is really one film or two. On one hand, when Part I ends it has more loose ends than a golf ball with the skin peeled off. About all that is tied up is the current sentence. Talk about leaving room for a sequel! Eisenstein doesn't just leave *room*, he leaves the whole house! An historical note on Eisenstein: he appears to be the only Jew revered by the Soviets since Karl Marx. Apparently he hid his religion by not asking to leave.
As with most films about conflict, the IVANs tell the story of the unending struggle between pretty people and ugly people, with ugly people being the bad guys. (This struggle may be more recent than we tend to think. In Dickens's time it was more a struggle of people with funny names such as Twist and Nickleby against people with ugly names such as Mr. Scrooge or Miss Zits.) It is only with the more realistic Schwarzenegger and Stallone films of the 1980s that the good guys are ugly too (and in Stallone's case they are making up for lost time). IVAN THE TERRIBLE is the story of how after an ugly becomes Czar he tries to run Russia for the peasants, all of whom are pretty. From a distance Ivan looks ugly: his hair is greasy and slicked down and he looks like he probably has fleas. But it turns out Ivan may not be ugly after all; it may be a plot by his aunt who has a face like a corn-grinding stone. It was probably she who put the Penzoil in his Vitalis.
The film opens with Ivan's coronation, which is more long and expensive than it is interesting, but then that is true of a lot of Russian films. They were made that way to prove to the world that Communism works so well that they can afford to waste film. But you know that Ivan is in big trouble because the place is just teeming with *ugly* people. There are a few pretty people who are saying loyal sorts of things, but there are far more uglies and they are not at all happy that Ivan is being crowned. Be warned, however, that some of the pretty people may well turn out to be villains. You will know this is happening when the camera starts showing them in unflattering close-ups.
Following the coronation there is a reception and banquet that turns out to be the funniest meal on screen since Blake Edwards's THE PARTY, except I guess it came before. During the course of a one-hour meal:
And you never get to see the dessert.
The second film has some definite stylistic differences from the first film. During the course of making the two films, Eisenstein became more anti-West as time went along. By the time he made the second film the anti-foreigner sentiment is obvious. He puts much more bright light at the bottom of the screen so the subtitles will be almost impossible to read. At the same time, this makes the plot more complex and harder to follow.
I wouldn't say this about Part I, but IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Part II) ranks up there with the original PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the original HELL'S ANGELS, THE RETURN OF DRACULA, and SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT as a film that suddenly goes from black-and-white to color in the middle for no obvious reason. It is quite a shock. Presumably the Soviet economy took an upturn during the shooting. Unfortunately, the blues on the colored stock have been lost to time but the reds are somewhere between vibrant and oppressive, much like Ivan himself. Part II has enough songs to rank almost as a musical and some odd dance numbers, including one around a peasant dressed like the Statue of Liberty.
The two films together are fairly long but the plot is not difficult to follow because it moves so slowly. Other than the banquet scene, in any given fifteen-minute stretch you can be reasonably sure that not much as happened. In fact, even in two films about Ivan, we learn almost nothing about the man or anything he did. The snail-paced plot instead gives plenty of time for meaningful looks and poses. It is as if every frame was intended to be a great--if not very realistic--painting.
In all, I would say that IVAN THE TERRIBLE is two classic films you may want to see some time. (Mediocre classics don't get ratings on the -4 to +4 scale.) [-mrl]
[A slightly different version of this review has been previously published here.]
Comforting News (letter of comment by Charles Harris):
In response to Mark's comments on comforting news in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
A couple of weeks before the tsunami, a movie that I had never heard of caught my eye on the library's DVD shelf: PU-239 (an HBO production originally titled THE HALF LIFE OF TIMOFEY BEREZIN). It turned out to be much better than I expected, +8 on my own 1-10 rating scale. It eerily foreshadowed current events: disaster in a nuclear plant, a dedicated worker's efforts to stave off a meltdown, and the ensuing government/industrial cover-up. Recommended. [-csh]
I had read the story in the book THE PUSHCART BOOK OF SHORT STORIES; it was by Ken Kalfus and titled "Pu-239". I forgot all about it until I saw the HBO film and remembered the same horrific climactic image. Then I went back to the library to see if I could find the book and see if there was a connection with this story I had read. Of course, it was based on the story. The climax at once grabbed my imagination and gave me the willies. Then again I got the willies from K-19: THE WIDOW MAKER seeing these people go in trying to fix the submarine reactor. [-mrl]
Efficient Sports (letters of comment by Tim Bateman and Don Blosser):
In response to comments on efficient sports in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes, "As Carson Napier explained to Duare: Golf is a mental disorder." [-tb]
Don Blosser writes:
I can't resist responding to the "perfect game" of a winning pitcher facing and retiring only 27 batters. The losing pitcher could face only 25 batters, being even more "efficient" in a losing effort?
Suppose one batter on the home team bats a home run sometime during the game. Throughout 8 innings the rest of the home team players are retired without reaching base.
In the top of the ninth, the visiting team bats. The home team does not come to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning if it is ahead. With a score of 1-0, the home team doesn't bat. The losing pitcher threw a 1-hitter and faced only 25 batters. The winning pitcher had to face 27 batters.
My inspiration here comes from Fred MacMurray in THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR. MacMurray was summoned before an administrative board because his sanity or fitness to teach was being questioned. So one of the board members asked MacMurray a baseball question about how many innings in a baseball game. MacMurray responded correctly with "eight and one-half innings," because of the way the question was posed. [-db]
MARS NEEDS MOMS (letter of comment by Lax Madapaty):
In response to Mark's comments on MARS NEEDS MOMS in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, Lax Madapaty writes, "Put a budget lens on it--when-low budget gems leave after a poor theatrical showing they don't make news until/unless they get discovered on home/online media. High-budget bombs make news, people love to talk about them, regardless of movie quality." [-lm]
Fukushima (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on Fukushima in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes, "I saw on my home page today that some radioactivity in Boston rainwater is attributed to the ongoing problems in Japan. That's quite a distance, though they say it's a small amount. " [-kw]
Keith Lynch replies, "To say that it's a small amount is a major understatement. Or perhaps I should say overstatement. It's mostly a statement about how astonishingly sensitive measurement instruments are." [-kfl]
BLACKOUT (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Paul Dormer, Tim McDaniel, Andy Leighton, and Tim Bateman):
In response to Joe Karpierz's comments on BLACKOUT in the 03/25/11 issue of the MT VOID (in response to Evelyn's comments in the 03/18/11 issue), Kip Williams writes:
As I've said, I think what others see as redundant info-dumps is immersive for me. I've already read about the problems of being in London at the time of war in a shallow enough way. The repetition and detail, and the growing uncertainty of the characters (who at first thought they'd be in and out, bing-bing-bing, and back on campus for tea... well, more or less) puts us in what would have been the mind-set of people living there, who had no idea when the war would be over, or even (and this uncertainty comes to be shared by the future visitors) how it would come out. It's possible the story could be told in fewer words, but I'm not sure it would have affected me nearly as much with a vicarious sense of experience.
[vague spoilers over: you may leave your shelter]
Paul Dormer (of the UK) adds:
The trouble with this book (and its sequel) is that I've now heard so many reports of the anachronisms and lack of knowledge of UK geography that I think I'd be reading it just to compile a list. I think someone said they are using decimal currency in the war (introduced 1971) and someone takes 3 hours to get from Euston station to Oxford Street when the public transport is out, when you can walk it in 20 minutes. [-pd]
Leading Kip to respond:
Did they try it under blitz conditions? [-kw]
My mother might have, if not in the Blitz but during the V bombing in 1944. Not sure exactly when she came back from evacuation, but she would have been 16 when the first V bombs fell, and I do recall she said she sometimes had to walk home from where she worked in the City to her house in Lee, about 6.5 miles away, when the buses weren't running. (Apparently, my grandmother was on a bus that passed Woolworth's in Deptford in 1994, just minutes before a V2 fell on it on a Saturday morning, the single largest loss of life from a V bomb during the war.) [-pd]
Tim McDaniel responds:
I just want to be the first to make the obvious comment about hang time and the incredibly precise trajectory. [-tmd]
Andy Leighton (also of the UK) also responds:
Except it [the Euston-Oxford walk] was during the day and not during (or IIRC after) bombing of the route. The book is really poor for its British research. Non-native fauna and flora seem to be name-dropped by children with hardly any education. The Jubilee Line wasn't around during the war (opened in 1977 for the Queen's Silver Jubilee). The underground is all messed up--wrong stations, lines that hadn't been built, wrong details. She has someone make a telephone call from a pillar box. Paper cartons of tea? Regardless of paper cartons of tea being somewhat alien to this native there was paper rationing during the war. The language spoken by the characters often goes a bit American. There was also a fair bit more. Some of these should be easily found by even the slightest amount of research. There were too many little things that threw me outside the story. Some of the problems aren't Willis's fault however. The cover art on the first edition shows what looks to be US bombers to me. Also the cover credits on the rear flap refer to St Patrick's Cathedral and not St Paul's. [-al]
And Tim Bateman replies:
Yes, having just checked on Amazon, it looks like B-29s are bombing St. Paul's Cathedral.
Having just checked on Wikipedia, B-29s were introduced into service in May, 1944 (first flight was Sept. '42). [-tb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The science fiction groups here seem to be fixated on Philip K. Dick; our local group did a bunch of stories out of THE PHILIP K. DICK READER for January, which I commented on in the 02/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, the Middletown did "Paycheck" (story and movie), and locally we did another batch for March (almost all of which were from 1953 or 1954). Because the person who picked the selection for January picked the best of the book then, these tended to be a bit weaker.
"Fair Game" (1959) led to what was apparently supposed to be a surprise ending, but wasn't. And as a further indication of the weakness of this, in it Dick re-used some of the imagery from EYE IN THE SKY (1957), making it all seem very hum-drum.
And speaking of eyes, I did rather like "The Eyes Have It" (1953), a linguistics-based story about what happens when you don't understand synecdoche. (There's an old joke about how science fiction authors get their ideas from a post office box in Schenectady, but that postdates this story.) As a fan of the oddities of language, I love this sort of thing.
"The Golden Man" (1954) deals with precognition, predestination, and free will (and was the basis for the film NEXT).
"The Turning Wheel" (1954) is about post-apocalyptic cults in Detroit. Given the economic situation in Detroit these days, maybe we should see if it's coming true.
"The Last of the Masters" (1954) is one of Dick's more overtly political stories--many are political, but they tend to be people living in various political situations than people discussing various political situations. Here, Dick looks at the consequences of anarchism.
"The Father-Thing" (1954) seemed to have a lot of ideas in common with Jack Finney's [INVASION OF] THE BODY SNATCHERS, but since that also came out in 1954, it seems more a coincidence than one copying the other. (There are also echoes of INVADERS FROM MARS, which was a 1953 movie, so there may have been some influence there.)
"Tony and the Beetles" (1953) (also known as "The Retreat from Rigel") seems trite and obvious now. It may have been fresh when it was written, but I'm skeptical of even that.
WORLDSHAKER by Richard Harland (ISBN 978-1-4169-9552-4) is a steampunk alternate history, heavy on the steampunk and light on the alternate history. The turning point is (points are?) the Napoleonic Wars, which in this world do not end in 1814, but drag on and on, leading to increased technology such as two-mile-long juggernauts that have become the equivalent of generation ships, with a social structure apparently inspired by H. G. Wells. The likelihood of this alternate history is negligible (which, I suppose, is true of most steampunk). If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will like.
THE RISE AND THE FALL OF THE BIBLE: THE UNEXPECTED HISTORY OF AN ACCIDENTAL BOOK by Timothy Beal (ISBN 978-0-15-101358-6) is not what one might expect. It is not a book written by an atheist, or a skeptic, but by a Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University who is married to a minister. Yet it is not a defense of a literal interpretation of the Bible either.
For example, in writing about Kenneth N. Taylor's translation, THE WAY: THE LIVING BIBLE, Beal writes: "So for a time, THE WAY saved me, or at least distracted me, from the growing doubts about my childhood faith in the Bible. That is, it saved my iconic idea of the Bible from the disillusion that came from literally reading it. Indeed, this was the true innovation of THE WAY: it offered a reading experience of the Bible that didn't entail all the complexities and frustrations that came when I actually read the biblical text. It felt like what reading the Bible was supposed to feel like, even while it distracted me from the real ambiguities and uncertainties of the Biblical text itself."
And later he writes, "To a point, fundamentalist-leaning critics and I agree about what the Bible business is doing to the Bible. By reinventing it in an ever-widening variety of things and words, all marketed as the one and only Word of God, these publishers are devaluing the very thing they're selling."
Beal bases a lot of what he says on the premise that the Bible has become a cultural icon, but in doing so has lost its standing as a set of texts (not a single text, as Beal emphasizes) that serve to inspire religious faith and study. In support of this, Beal cites a poll that found that 78% of Americans believe that the Bible is the Word of God, 65% believe that it "answers all or most of the questions of life"--and 28% say they rarely or never read it.
(The text is unclear on whether this is 28% of those responding positively to the other questions, or 28% of all responders. Personally, I am skeptical of any poll that indicates 72% of Americans often read the Bible. Would people lie about this? Well, the number of people who claim they attend church regularly is completely out of sync with actual church attendance figures.)
BEOWULF ON THE BEACH: WHAT TO LOVE AND WHAT TO SKIP IN LITERATURE'S 50 GREATEST HITS by Jack Murnighan (ISBN 978-0-307-40957-7) includes for each book such helpful sections as "What People Don't Know (But Should)", "What's Sexy", "Quirky Fact", and "What to Skip". (The latter reduces Marcel Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST by fifty percent, leaving only about 1200 pages.) There are a lot of books of this sort, going back at least to Clifton Fadiman's LIFETIME READING PLAN. These days, there are two sorts: the sort that emphasize the intellectual side (e.g., Harold Bloom's THE WESTERN CANON or David Denby's GREAT BOOKS), and the sort that portray the classics of literature as great beach reads. As you might guess from the title, Murnighan's book falls in the latter category. (I have the impression that most of these books with a number in the title fall into the latter category. One doesn't find "The 50 Greatest Books" or "100 Books to Give You a College Education", but you do find books like "The 50 Greatest Novels about Love" or "Two Dozen Novels to Help You Find Your Inner Serenity".) As with most books of this sort, many of Murnighan's book choices are obvious, some are unsurprising, and others are very much based on his personal opinion rather than any consensus.
Murnighan talks about the humor in MOBY DICK, and points out a bit I missed: "Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle." The "Pythagorean maxim" here is *not* the Pythagorean Theorem, but his dietary rule: Do not eat beans. Think about it.
However, although Murnighan talks about "What People Don't Know (But Should)" about the various classics, he also makes one mistake himself: he says that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day. They died on the same *date* (April 23, 1616), but this was not the same day, because Spain had already switched to the Gregorian calendar, but England had not. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it. --Samuel Butler
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