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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/15/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 42, Whole Number 1645
Table of Contents
Second Life (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Again I am on the subject of Second Life, the virtual reality world. I suggested that the people you would meet in Second Life are the same losers you meet in Reality. I hate to sound like a misanthrope. I have thrown together my virtual reality world for misanthropes. I call it First Life. I mean this to be the Second Life for people like Burgess Meredith in the TWILGHT ZONE episode "Time Enough at Last." You run it and a blank screen comes up. It makes no demands on you. You can go read a book if you want.Right now it works on UNIX systems. I will soon have an iPhone and an iPad interface. And next week I will have a version than runs on an Etch-a-Sketch. [-mrl]
Foreign-Language Spy Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Another rare and interesting film has shown up and has been pointed out by the Open Culture site. The film is THE HYPERBOLOID OF ENGINEER GARIN (1965). Don't let the title put you off. It is not about mathematics. The Hyperboloid is a death ray. The film is sort of James-Bond crossed with 1940s serial. It does not have quite that pace, but that seems to be where the ideas come from. Engineer Garin has a death ray much like a laser and Garin intends to burn down whole cities to rule the world. (The laser was invented in 1960 so it had been around for five years when this film was made, but perhaps they wanted to brag it was predicted in a 1927 Russian novel THE GARIN DEATH RAY by Aleksey Tolstoy. Anyway, the film is in Russian with English subtitles (with some bizarre subtitles indicating they were not written by anyone with a great command of English). There are some nice scenes of destruction in the second half. The Open Culture source is:
Or you can get it directly from YouTube:
On another note, if you are into satires on James Bond film, there are two fairly funny satires on the Bond films involving OSS agent 117. There are on Netflix Instant:
A Close Look at KING KONG (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We recently got ourselves a Blu-ray player and got with it some features we were unaware of. One total surprise is that the machine does something with the picture from a plain, old-fashioned (if that is the proper adjective) DVD. The picture from a DVD was clearer and sharper. I am told this has do to with something called "upscaling" or "upconverting". I do not follow it technically, but I have been trying out the improved imaging with several DVDs that benefit from showing screen detail. That was how I decided to watch for maybe the fiftieth time one of my favorite films, KING KONG. Because I really could see more on the screen I gave the film a very close watching like I have not given it in years. I always seem new material. The following are observations I made on this or perhaps a recent viewing.
KING KONG was made at a time when the special effects were cutting edge. By today's standards we can see that some of the effects were slipshod and could have been improved with more care. But if you love a film you want to see even the blemishes. It still is a great film, and with the unlikely but possible exception of THE WIZARD OF OZ it the most beloved film in cinema history. [-mrl]
PAUL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Where PAUL falls short of Simon Pegg's previous two films is that they knew where they were going, and where they were going was a big part of the humor. Paul has a perfunctory plot on which was hung a bunch of nearly independent gags intended to be funny. Almost all of the humor is added on rather than being part of the structure of the story. Then the gags were just not strong enough and too often based on the false assumption that a lot of swearing in a film is funny, particularly if it comes from someone you would not expect to swear. It is not that the swearing damages the film, but it takes the place of cleverer gags. Director Greg Mottola did not understand what makes a Simon Pegg comedy funny. And neither did Simon Pegg or co-writer Nick Frost. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have a long history of working together in British comedy television. More recently they have been making films. In 2004 they starred in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and in 2007 they acted together in HOT FUZZ, two delightful quirky comedies. On those films Pegg co-wrote with writer/director Edgar Wright. For PAUL Pegg is co-writing with as well as acting with Nick Frost. Edgar Wright has been demoted to script editor. Edgar, we need you back. It is not that PAUL is a bad film, but it lacks the intelligence of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. With both of those films there is the feeling from the beginning that the viewer is in good hands. It is totally unpredictable where these stories will go, but it is clear the filmmakers know. PAUL has a very different sort of feel. Instead of a strong story arc, it has a flimsy arc and then a bunch of gags and action scenes are hung on that frame like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Particularly for science fiction film and comic fans there are a lot of funny bits, but one has the feeling that they could be removed and the plot and idea of the film would not change much.
It seems that two science fiction dweebs from Britain are renting a motor home and visiting the science-fiction-related sites of the American Southwest. They will start with San Diego Comic Con and continue to sites like Area 51, the Black Mailbox, and Roswell. Simon Pegg is Graeme Willy and Nick Frost is Clive Gollings. Along the way they unexpectedly pick up a third member for their party, an extraterrestrial alien. The joke is that he does not have an unearthly name like Klaatu or even a title like the Doctor. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan). And his behavior matches his name. He has been on this planet for sixty of our years and has assimilated so much that he not only talks like Seth Rogan, he acts like him also. He has mastered the fine art of profanity and likes it just about as much as you would expect that Seth Rogan would. And the whole plot is in service of that one gimmick. This is an alien would make a good drinking and drugs buddy. Within that conceit there is sort of a plot of getting Paul where he can be picked up by a flying saucer. Parts of the saucer look like a smaller version of the United Planets Cruiser from FORBIDDEN PLANET. And all over there are little references to science fiction and action films. Bits of dialog are snatched from all over the place. This might be a good film to watch on DVD so it can be easily stopped to think about the sources. There are details that might have been funny that were lost in the British actors failure to enunciate. The story takes the characters all over the Southwest chased by some inept "men in black." Also involved is a fundamentalist evangelical father and his daughter. The latter has a crisis of faith with the discovery that in spite of all her dogma to the contrary there really are aliens.
In addition to its comic actors of current popularity, people like Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Pegg and Frost, Jane Lynch, and Jeffrey Tambor, it is nice to see some of the previous generation actors, particularly Blyth Danner and another woman who shall remain nameless since though we hear her highly recognizable voice throughout the film, she remains unseen for most of the film like Blofeld in early Bond films.
Pegg and Frost throw in as much satire of American culture, science fiction fandom, and good old boy relationships as they can, but it would have been a stronger comedy if it had been more essential to the structure of the film. PAUL is Simon Pegg's JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. I rate it a disappointing low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092026/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/paul/
JOHNNY BE GONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Life is torment for Johnny, a transsexual who hates his physical maleness. When the emotional screws are turned too tightly on Johnny, he releases the pressure in a truly disturbing sequence. This is the second film from writer/director Trevor Juenger. It is roughly edited (also by Juenger) to give a stark, grunge feel. JOHNNY BE GONE will be highly selective in its appeal. The viewer's reaction will be come in large part from a capacity to appreciate the anguish on film. JOHNNY BE GONE has nudity and strong violence. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers.
JOHNNY BE GONE is a rough, violent, unpolished film with a rough, violent, unpolished story. Chicago-based Trevor Juenger wrote and directed this 44-minute film about a transsexual living in both St. Louis and agony. Every day he is facing hatred for what he is, and more than a little of it is self-hatred. Johnny (played by Erik A. Williams, who co-produced this low-budget film with Juenger) lives in constant mental torment each day. He desperately wants a sex-change operation, but in the interim he would settle for a job at the local sandwich shop. The owner of the shop refuses to hire him since the customers would probably object to him. The film opens with a gang from the same sandwich shop beating him and binding his ankles to hang him head down from a tree. With the exception of his roommate Logan (Joe Hammerstone), everyone who knows Johnny treats him with indifference at best; at worst, well, the film opens with him being hung from a tree. There is also a mother figure in Johnny's life, but she is in the form of a talking rabbit who gives Johnny the same warm caring relationship that Norman Bates had with his mother. It seems there are not enough tormentors in Johnny's life without him creating a talking rabbit to make matters even worse.
Johnny spends his time hating those parts of his anatomy that stand between him being what he is and being the woman he wants to be. The hatred builds and is finally expressed in actions that are probably more explicit and graphic than many viewers will want to see. This is a film that is made to disturb and it will not be a pleasant watch. The film feels like a grungy American version of a Yukio Mishima story.
Juenger has intentionally made this film as uncompromising as he could manage. The hand-held camera photography is jarring and at times I found it hard to see with the film was showing me. I had a synopsis with the film at I needed it to understand what I was seeing in the climax. Juenger likes to give us images of Johnny's pets. I waited for this attention to pets to pay off in some way, but if it was more than padding, I missed it. The film creates a claustrophobic world for Johnny. Living in St. Louis there must be more than one place where Johnny could work and where he might be more welcome than at the sandwich shop that is such a hotbed of anti-transsexual bigotry. But his world seems reduced to four or five locations.
A downer of an experience, JOHNNY BE GONE has a rising tension until it gives forth a intense release. I rate JOHNNY BE GONE a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. JOHNNY BE GONE is making the rounds of film festivals.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1546402/
SOURCE CODE(letters of comment by Mark Brader and Evelyn C. Leeper):
In response to Mark's review of SOURCE CODE in the 04/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Mark Brader writes in email to Mark:
[Regarding Colter inhabiting Sean's body, and hence Sean having to die] Looks that way, doesn't it? I wonder what Christine will say when she realizes her boyfriend has total amnesia about being a teacher.
[Regarding creating a large number of universes in which Chicago is destroyed] I took it to be accessing, not creating, parallel universes. In which case we can assume there are an infinite number of universes where the project was developed and Colter or his analog succeeded, and an infinite number where Chicago was lost. "All the Myriad Ways".
[Regarding whether Colter disables the bomb in the final universe] Now this one was covered. He guessed correctly that because the train bomb had a cell phone trigger, this bomber would only use that mode. He then disabled the train bomb by removing both cell phones, assuming correctly that there wasn't a third one; and he disabled the dirty bomb by disabling (i.e. confining) the bomber. [-mb]
And Evelyn writes:
Isn't there something wrong with the entire basic premise of SOURCE CODE? If the plan is, in effect, to put Colter Stevens into the last eight minutes of memories of Sean Fentress, how can Stevens have any idea of what will happen or who he will see as soon as he diverges from those memories? If Fentress had stayed in his seat the whole time, how could Stevens possibly find out about the white van?
One response might be that the ending indicates that Stevens is not just in Fentress's memories, but in an entire alternate world constructed from these. Overlooking how one could possibly do this, this result is entirely contrary to what the project leaders in the main timeline say is possible, so how could they have possibly expected the project to work, and hence how could they ever get any funding for it? [-ecl]
SLEEP DEALER (letter of comment by David Anolick):
In response to Mark's comments on SLEEP DEALER in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dave Anolick writes:
In the 01/28 MT Void you listed the top SF/Fantasy films of the '00s. I hadn't seen a couple of them, so I threw them on my Netflix Queue. I was in no rush to watch them. There was a mix-up in my Queue and when SLEEP DEALER got shipped to me yesterday I actually wanted a different movie. Well, I'm glad that I "goofed" because it was another great movie that I never would have seen without the MT VOID.
Just wanted to say thanks (for the hundredth time?) for your great work. [-da]
Hey! That's what I like to hear. Currently the films that I think are under-appreciated are this one and THE MAN FROM EARTH. I recommended SLEEP DEALER to Dan Kimmel who still has not seen it I think, but he trusted my recommendation enough to pass it to the people planning the Boston Science Fiction Film Marathon. They had never heard of it either, but the trailer intrigued them and however they decide it they used it to close a Marathon. On the other hand I recommended it to one of my correspondents, and he really objected to the politics. (However, the political speculation about water rights is well-grounded in incidents that have already happened.) In any case, thanks for your mail. It made my day. [-mrl]
And Dave replies:
Glad I made your day, because you have made mine with this movie and in the past. I had seen THE MAN FROM EARTH based on your first MT VOID recommendation a few years ago. That one has really stayed with me. It was so simple, straightforward, thought provoking and incredibly well done.
I wasn't too thrilled with the end of SLEEP DEALER, which was a bit obvious and simplistic given the complex problems and society that the movie had built up. But I thought the extrapolation of technology, politics, etc. was very realistic. I'm hopeful it doesn't go that direction, but certainly could see it happening in a similar way. [-da]
PLANET OF THE APES (letter of comment by Guy Lillian III):
In response to Mark's comments on PLANET OF THE APES (in his review of SOURCE CODE) in the 04/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Guy Lillian writes:
What's absurd about PLANET OF THE APES is that Taylor never looks up and sees the #$&%@ moon! True, they do mention that the nights are overcast, hut as we all know, you can often see the moon in the daylight. Well, so what? PLANET OF THE APES is still a very fun flick, Heston is a hoot and the makeup is astounding. Gotta say, though, that Manhattan obviously "grew" a great deal to the south, for Taylor and his Hammer girl to be able to view Lady Liberty that close up and from that angle. [-gl3]
Mark Twain (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Evelyn's comments on book sales in the 04/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I've got WHO IS MARK TWAIN? as well, and it's always great to find more short nonfiction from him (or anything, but short nonfiction in particular). If you don't already have the Library of America's two-volume COLLECTED TALES, SKETCHES, SPEECHES & ESSAYS--and I'm talking to anybody who sees this--it has my highest commendation and I wish I had a version for my reader.
After I finish that (I've been reading it a bit at a time, partly to save it for later, and partly so my head won't explode), and of course some of it I've already read. After that there will still be the AUTOBIOGRAPHY (including forthcoming volumes), and then I may as well read as many of his letters as I can get my hands on (such as the massive volume or volumes at Project Gutenberg).
I found my ticket stub from seeing Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain Tonight" shortly before we left Virginia, and I'm irked that ticket stubs from completely forgettable shows are still in great shape, while this one is fading and has some moisture damage. [-kw]
Keith F. Lynch responds:
All of that material is almost certainly available free online, as it's in the public domain.
Speaking of inexpensive text, I just got home from a used book sale at a Catholic girls' school. I bought 15 hardbacks, 18 paperbacks, and 5 DVDs for a total of $10. The weather was beautiful. Metro was its usual self--when I changed trains at Metro Center, all three escalators between the two levels were broken, which is especially annoying when I have a hand truck, and the Red Line train had major delays. On the way home, the first train smelled strongly of overheated brake pads, and the second train had no ventilation and was at least 100 F (38 C) (which doesn't bother me, but certainly bothered other passengers). [-kfl]
According to the Mark Twain project at UC Berkeley, "What Mark Twain himself published, or anything of his that others published posthumously before the year 1923, is in the public domain and may be quoted or reproduced in its entirety without permission. Mark Twain writings of any kind, whether literary manuscripts, notebooks, marginalia, or letters which came to light after 2001 and which were not published in the Microfilm Editions or elsewhere before the end of 2002 are likewise in the public domain." This implies that unpublished works which were known before the end of 2002 are *not* in the public domain. (For example, the new edition of the autobiography is not in the public domain.) Still, there are enough writings that are freely available to keep one busy for a long time.
One of the things that makes collecting Twain difficult is that because a lot is in public domain, there are various collections of short pieces which overlap other collections. One ends up with a lot of duplicate material. For example, THE DEVIL'S RACE-TRACK, THE HIDDEN MARK TWAIN, LETTERS FROM THE EARTH, LIFE AS I FIND IT, MARK TWAIN ON THE DAMNED HUMAN RACE, A PEN WARMED-UP IN HELL, and TALES OF WONDER are all books that have overlap with other volumes I have (primarily those from the Harper Authorized Edition). And I'm sure there are multiple versions of "The Complete Short Stories" and "The Complete Essays" of Mark Twain. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
NIGHTMARES OF EMINENT PERSONS by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 978-0-851- 24629-1) is labeled on the dust jacket as "Bertrand Russell's Latest Work of Fiction", and indeed he did have a previous volume of stories, SATAN IN THE SUBURBS. But who knew that Bertrand Russell wrote science fiction? NIGHTMARES OF EMINENT PERSONS consists of ten "nightmares" and two longer pieces. One nightmare, for instance, is "The Metaphysician's Nightmare", in which a tour of Hell includes "a particularly painful chamber inhabited solely by philosophers who have refuted Hume. These philosophers, though in Hell, have not learned wisdom. They continue to be governed by their animal propensity toward induction. But every time that they have made an induction, the next instance falsifies it. This, however, happens only during the first hundred years of their damnation. After that, they learn to expect that an induction will be falsified, and therefore it is not falsified until another century of logical torment has altered their expectation. Throughout all eternity surprise continues, but each time at a higher logical level."
[Hume argued against induction by claiming that there was no way to justify the use of induction without resorting to it in the justification. That is, any justification of induction reduces to, "Induction has always worked in the past," which is basically just using induction to justify induction. See David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1, Part 3.]
Charles W. Stuart's pen-and-ink illustrations are quite elegant, and reminiscent of Virgil Finlay, but Stewart makes one major error that no one at Simon and Schuster seems to have caught: he illustration for the far future Inca civilization has a beautiful *Meso-American* (Aztec or Mayan) pyramid. The Incas had nothing like it.
I ran across the problem of induction (and other quandaries) in MIND: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION by John R. Searle (ISBN 978-0-19-515733- 8), in which Searle lists ten basic conundrums about the mind (and then analyzes and discusses them):
I don't always agree with Searle's conclusions, but I find his logic fascinating. For example, in trying to justify a belief in free will, he says, "That we should have these massive experiences of freedom if there is no biological cash value to the experience seems an absurd result from an evolutionary point of view. The gap involves a major biological investment by such organisms as humans and higher animals. An enormous amount of the higher biological economy of the organism is devoted to conscious rational decision making." We spend a lot of time not just in training ourselves, but also in training our young to make good decisions, and where would all this have come from if everything is predetermined?
(Searle gives a much more detailed analysis, of course.)
As part of the reading list that included Searle's MIND, I also read NAMING AND NECESSITY by Saul A. Kripke (ISBN 0-674-59846-6), transcripts of three lectures given at Princeton in 1970 and a classic in the field of philosophy of language. But it also turns out to have strong connections to alternate history.
In analyzing language, philosophers use the idea of "possible worlds" or of counterfactuals to test various theories. For example, if on some duplicate Earth there is a substance that looks like water, serves all the purposes of water, and is called water, but has a different molecular structure, does someone there mean the same thing when he says "water" as we do?
But even more directly connected to alternate history is the question of proper names, which is called "transworld identification." First of all, to whom are we referring when we say "Richard Nixon"? We can try to answer that with a list of properties: he was born in Yorba Linda, he was Vice-President under Eisenhower, he was President from 1969 to 1974, and so on. But we might talk about an alternate world in which Nixon was not President. Is he no longer Nixon? I cannot speak for philosophers, but alternate history fans would probably say he is still Nixon. What about if e wasn't Vice-President either? What if he did not do anything the same except be born on the same date to the same parents? What if they gave him a different name as well. Is that John Nixon the same as our Richard Nixon?
To writers (and readers) of alternate history this is important. For example, it is pretty much impossible to have a world in which the United States loses World War II, and Nixon still becomes Vice- President under Eisenhower. But what if instead something different happens to Nixon early in his life--is he still Nixon? If he gets a slightly different set of genes, but is still born on the same day with the same name to the same parents, is it still Nixon? And when we read an alternate history where the South won the Civil War and in 1960 there is a character in California named Richard Nixon, are we supposed to believe that is the same Nixon?
I recently re-read VINTAGE SEASON by C. L. Moore, or Henry Kuttner, or Lawrence O'Donnell, or whatever combination of those is credited as the author. (The story is credited to different authors in different places and they are all names for Moore and/or Kuttner, who formed a wife and husband writing team.) And then I watched the film based on it, which has even more names than the author of the novella (hard as that is to believe). It is known variously as THE GRAND TOUR, DISASTER IN TIME, GRAND TOUR; DISASTER IN TIME, and TIMESCAPE. (Given that *I* think of it as "Vintage Season", I always have great difficulty looking it up!)
To explain why I re-read and watched this, and to comment on it, involves SPOILERS. If you don't want SPOILERS, stop now (this is the last review this week).
The story involves a group of tourists who seem very out of place in the B&B they have somewhat commandeered. They keep saying very odd things that make it very easy for the reader to figure out what's going on; one wonders why the B&B owners are so slow on the uptake. (Hint: they keep making references to London in 1666 and Europe in 1348.)
The movie goes this one better, piling Ossa upon Pelion, as it were, in a way that very much reminded me of recent events. As the saying goes, it's one damn thing after another. However, the movie also has a subplot of the B&B owner having lost his wife in a car accident, having a father-in-law who is trying to take his daughter away, etc., in addition to the owner becoming more directly involved in the technology. All this helps fill out the time and add some action scenes, but really is not essential to the story. (And this is similar to the current film SOURCE CODE, in that it worries that the basic premise is not enough for a movie, and so adds a lot of additional and unnecessary plot.)
The novella is available in a Tor Double paired with Robert Silverberg's IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, the same story told from a different point of view (ISBN 0-812-50193-4). So in effect, you can experience three versions of the same story. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Logic is like the sword--those who appeal to it, shall perish by it. --Samuel Butler
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