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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/22/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 43, Whole Number 1646
Table of Contents
Astronomical Eye Candy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
NASA put together this display of the Wonders of the Universe. I could say this is probably the most violent film I have ever seen, but does it count as violence if it is victimless violence?
Alice (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND first came out the idea did not sound appealing to me, and I skipped seeing it. Then it won two Academy Awards, both for its look, so I decided to give it a chance. I think in making this particular film it has done a great service to the Lewis Carroll story. By changing it so much and still leaving it such a dull story, Burton has successfully hidden the fact that any faithful adaptation of the story would probably have been equally dull. His modifications can take the blame. Carroll's imagery just does not lend itself well to the literal- ness of being shown on the screen. As with the Alphabet Song, adults are supposed to pretend they actually like the ALICE IN WONDERLAND story, but few actually do. [-mrl]
What Is THIS ISLAND EARTH About? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Many years after making the film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Robert Wise was surprised to find out that when Edmund H. North wrote the screenplay he put in several allusions to Christ and, in fact, the story is sort of a re-telling of the story of Christ. Today this is pretty much common knowledge, but most viewers went for many years without ever noticing what the film was really about, at least on some level. And some films can go for many years without it being generally known what the film is really about. Many years after making the "Star Wars" films George Lucas admitted that as a story of a low-tech military power defeating a high-tech military power was an allegory of the Viet Cong defeating the powerful United States military machine. I would not have guessed that from the films, but you really do not know what is going on in a writer's mind. Then again, sometimes you can find out.
A friend told me recently that the film THIS ISLAND EARTH was just a 1950s special effects extravaganza and was not really about anything.
Actually, like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THIS ISLAND EARTH really is about something, though it might not be obvious from the film. I found out reading Raymond F. Jones's novel of the same title. THIS ISLAND EARTH is apparently a 1950s updating of the anti-imperialistic message of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898). Now the film INDEPENDENCE DAY is much more obviously an updating of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and follows the form fairly closely right up to the aliens being destroyed by a virus. But in its own way, the novel THIS ISLAND EARTH is an updating of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.
You might not see it easily from the George Pal film, but THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a statement about late 19th century British imperialism. When Wells wrote the novel the British would bring a gunboat up to an island and tell the natives that they were now in charge. They would enforce their conquest with their superior weapons technology. Wells wanted to show what this was like from the point of view of the natives on the island. He made England the island and Martians the invaders. But it was sort of a "how would you like it?"
By WWII imperialism did not work quite the same way. The Americans were fighting a war in the Pacific. They needed island bases to fight and defend against the Japanese. Without consulting the natives they would set up bases on the islands and bring in modern technology. These islands were just a tiny part of the big war. Some of the natives the Americans would perhaps help them in the war effort. But whether they liked it or not everyone on the island had become a combatant and could justifiably be attacked by the other side. Some of the helpers would see technology like nothing they had ever seen before. Raymond F. Jones took a cue from Wells and wrote his stories about what it was like to be a native on one of these islands. How do we like it when this island, Earth, becomes a minuscule part in an interstellar war? Jones makes clear in the novel that that is what he is writing about.
Neither film THE WAR OF THE WORLDS nor THIS ISLAND EARTH really push their anti-imperialist messages, but that is really what each is about. THIS ISLAND EARTH is about an intelligent native who is useful for the war effort, but for one the film is more downbeat than the book it was based on. In the film the human is on the losing side of interstellar war. In the book he turns out to be the key to winning the war.
I don't think I would see the anti-imperialism in either film if I didn't know to look for it. Each sort of drains out the political and concentrates on the spectacle, but THIS ISLAND EARTH is definitely about a high-level idea. [-mrl]
YEAR'S BEST SF 15 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (copyright 2010, EOS Science Fiction, $7.99, 491pp, ISBN 978-0-06-172175-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I looked back at my files of book reviews and realized that I had never reviewed a year's "best of" before--well, at least not since early 1999, which is as far back as my archives go (the older book reviews can now only be found in the MT VOID archives--I don't have them). I've got a ton of dead trees devoted to annual "best of" collections, mostly those edited by Dozois, and these that are edited by Hartwell and Cramer. I've rarely read them--I don't know why. So it was an odd choice when one day I reached into my "to read" stack and grabbed the most recent year's best edited by Hartwell and Cramer.
I had no expectations of what I would find in the book. I realized a long time ago that my tastes don't match those of the folks who make these decisions (a statement I've probably made 375 times in my book reviews--at least it must seem like it to many of you who read these reviews). One of the unwritten beatitudes is "blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall never be disappointed".
This book did not disappoint me.
Oh, I know from reading Locus and various websites that this book is supposed to be one of the best collections of the year. It's mentioned in all sorts of places as a collection of stellar material. As I described it to one of my coworkers who also reads science fiction (or SF or sci-fi or skiffy, if you've found this review, John), the distribution of the quality of the stories in this book fall nicely into a traditional bell-shaped curve. The majority of them are so-so, a few are really good, and a few have me scratching my head as to why they're in a "best of" book at all. But you know, that's my opinion.
So, what stories did I find terrific? "The Island", by Peter Watts (which has been getting praised quite a bit in various circles, and deservedly so); "The Fixation", by Alastair Reynolds, a nice little story about what happens when you can't see the forest for the trees; "Exegesis", by Nancy Kress, which is a silly little thing the type of which we've seen a gazillion times and I still love; and the best of the lot, "The Last Apostle", by Michael Cassutt, a nice alternate history story about the lunar program if it hadn't ended the way it did, and the dozen men who landed on the moon.
Decent? "The Consciousness Problem", by Mary Robinette Kowal, a story about a women who's been having problems in the aftermath of a concussion and her and her husband's work with cloning; "Tempest 43", by Stephen Baxter, about a space station run by AIs, the purpose of which is to prevent hurricanes from happening on earth, and the investigation into why a hurricane actually happened when it wasn't supposed to; "Another Life", by Charles Oberndorf, which the introduction says may be the best SF story of the year, and while I guess I can see that if I squint and look at it with my head tilted, I guess I just don't see that; and "Attitude Adjustment", by Eric James Stone, which is a fun space adventure problem-solving story, the type of which I will always have a fondness in my heart for (that sentence fragment just can't be that good);
Clunkers? "Bespoke", by Genevieve Valentine, which I just don't get; and "The Highway Code", by Brian Stableford, maybe not a clunker, but clearly to me of lesser quality than most of the stories in the book.
There are others that I haven't mentioned that fall mostly in the middle of the pack. Ho hum, yawn. Nothing special, really. Other than the four I mentioned, absolutely nothing knocked me out. Best of? Really? [-jak]
The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen (book review by Greg Frederick):
I just finished the history book titled THE MOST POWERFUL IDEA IN THE WORLD by William Rosen. It is a detailed account about many aspects of the early Industrial Revolution and the inventions like the steam engine that helped propel the revolution. It's typical for Rosen to cover many different angles of a subject he writes about. This book covers economic, psychological, societal, scientific, legal, and cultural areas of the revolution as well as others. Fundamentally, it is very interesting that countries like China, France, Italy did not lead in having an Industrial Revolution in the 1600s or the 1700s. This revolution began in the relatively small country of England during the 1700's. Also, the recently created USA followed in the same path begun in England. France had twice the population of England and China had a far larger population. France had a number of famous scientists, as did England, to help motivate local craftsman to invent new devices to fuel a revolution. China had invented paper, gunpowder, printing, the compass, and mechanical clocks over the years but did not have an Industrial Revolution in the 1700s.
England began this revolution because after fighting a civil war in the 1600s the idea of individual rights verses the King's rights permeated through that society. This led to the creation of patent laws that allowed an individual to personally profit from his ideas, and these ideas were turned into money making inventions. Previous to this a king or other ruler could take your idea and profit from it. Human welfare in many ways has continually improved since the Industrial Revolution at an ever-expanding rate. Humans have seen improvements in mortality, calories consumed, average height, education, health, hours of leisure time, GDP, lifestyle, and many other factors. A child born in France in 1700 (before the Industrial Revolution occurred there) could expect to live only to age thirty, and had to worry about starvation, infectious diseases, violence, and mostly likely could not read. Parents in 1700 France might have eight to ten children since only three might survive to adulthood.
English inventors like Thomas Newcomen (invented atmospheric steam engine), James Watt (invented improved steam engine), Richard Trevithick (invented high pressure steam engine, early locomotive), George Stephenson, Robert Stephenson (invented improved and fore runner of all steam locomotives) created some of the devices to fuel the expanding revolution. England's economic growth followed the growth of its industries like textiles, iron foundries, milling of grain, coal mining and others that were becoming mechanized and powered by steam engines. England's productivity was increasing as was the wealth of the country and certain industries thus allowing the country to expand its naval and military presence around the world.
This is the second good book I read from this author. Rosen does a very complete job of researching his topics and detailing many perspectives on it. [-gf]
SLEEP DEALER (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Mark's comments on SLEEP DEALER in the 04/15/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
In fact I saw SLEEP DEALER at last year's Marathon and thought it was a substantial effort that would have attracted more attention from SF fans if it hadn't been ghettoized by its distributor to playing mostly to Spanish-speaking audiences.
Still haven't seen THE MAN FROM EARTH as I'm not on Netflix and my sources for borrowing video releases haven't been able to turn up a copy. [-dk]
Mark responds, "I stand corrected. I am pleased you saw and liked the film." [-mrl]
PLANET OF THE APES (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Guy Lillian III's comments on PLANET OF THE APES in the 04/15/11 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes, "Given recent developments, are we sure that the statue seen in PLANET OF THE APES was really the one in New York? It could have been the statue outside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas." [-pir]
Mark responds, "It's too big for that." [-mrl]
First Life (letters of comment by Edward Keighron and John Palframan):
In response to Mark's comments on First Life in the 04/15/11 issue of the MT VOID, Ed Keighron writes:
My Etch-a-Sketch came with First Life built in.
All I have to do is turn it upside down, shake it, ... and First Life(tm) kicks in. :-) [-ek]
John Palframan writes:
You might want to try out Web.Alive, an Avaya product. It's actually quite nice. There is a demo world on-line anyone can enter (let me know if you want to try it out, and I can meet you there! (though not for the next week--doing a bunch of accepted student days from Sat-Wed--then we will be done with college searches!)).
I spun up virtual world to host a recent symposium (its actually SAAS--hosted by Amazon), and have used it for meetings. I'm actually quite impressed with it, and it is getting good press. Note--it only works on Windows right now--I'm looking forward to later in the year when the user interface can run on a MAC. [-jp]
Oh yeah, I see how it works. When I came work for Bell Labs it was in the Old Holmdel with the hanging plants. Little by little they took that away. Bang, there goes the open atrium. Slersh, there goes the library. Kerbobble, the bank is gone. Ka-bam, no more stock room. Then they took away our offices and gave us two-person cubicles. Now they figure they can give people a luxurious, beautiful environment. The only small catch is that it doesn't really exist. Can I get a virtual chauffeured Rolls Royce to take me to and from meetings? They can give you some nice stuff as long at it is only made up of pixels and bits. (Pixels and bits! It sounds like dog food.) Hey, I have been dieting and lost 54 pounds since last July. (Fact!) Can I show *that* off at a meeting? No! All along I could have had a thin avatar so that I look good without dieting. Do I even know that people will see the Avatar I chose? For all I know the people I am meeting with see me crawling and drooling on the floor. [-mrl]
SOURCE CODE (letter of comment by Frank R. Leisti):
In response to Mark's comments on SOURCE CODE in the 04/08/11 and 04/15/11 issues of the MT VOID, Frank Leisti writes:
I was wondering how many people watching the movie noticed that each time Sean's body died, there were a jumble of images, which appeared to illustrate the many ways in which he was dying on the train and how he was standing in front of the mirror structure that finished out the movie?
I recalled another science fiction story that had a new communication capability that would start off with a jumble/high pitched noise before working well across the distances in the story. The noise at that beginning of each communication was later discovered to be the compressed data/voice of all uses of that communication device--so that future calls were all jumbled together in that first instance of static pitch.
With SOURCE CODE, it appeared that the "death" transition had all of the possibilities rolled into a single viewpoint.
Then, with Colter having altered the events, yet transmitting the information via text message to Goodwin, one wonders if he will be called upon with the next terrorist threat to alter those realities and inhabit other compatible bodies? [-frl]
I thought the jumble of images was sort of seeing (part of) his life flash before his eyes. And you are right. There is definitely room for a sequel. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Well, JR Trading had their Spring Sale, and so my spring buying binge is over. I have already written about the East Brunswick and Bryn Mawr sales; JR is different. The first two sales are composed of donated used books and (in the case of East Brunswick) library discards. JR Trading deals in new books, but books that haven't sold elsewhere--basically, remaindered books. The selection is probably comparable to East Brunswick, but looks much bigger, since for many of the books there are dozens, or even hundreds, of copies. I tend to concentrate on trade paperbacks, which are 3 for $10. Hardcover books are 5 for $20, though this year they priced hardcover fiction at just $2 each.
They always seem to have various books in the "Best American [X] Writing [year]", where X might be "Science & Nature", "Travel", or one of their other categories.
I found a few books. Sean B. Carroll's REMARKABLE CREATURES is about the search for evolutionary history. Michael Dirda's CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE is, I suppose, yet another book about books, but I find Dirda interesting. Ditto for Umberto Eco's SERENDIPITIES. The best find was probably the 738-page GRAHAM GREENE FILM READER, which I imagine will take me a while to get through. (That and the Twain autobiography could keep me occupied for a week's vacation, I suspect.)
JR Trading also occasionally has items other than books. One year they had Disney Christmas ornaments. This year they had a huge amount of "World Music" CDs, pretty much all from a company in the Netherlands. These were priced at $1 each, and not $1 each CD, but $1 each sales unit. So a 6-CD boxed set was just $1. We bought a lot of music: Latin, Irish, Klezmer, Gypsy, Bulgarian, Israeli, Bulgarian, and Indian (both kinds). Mark even found a 4-CD set of Rimsky-Korsakov orchestral works!
And that's it until June and my own library's book sale.
EVERYTHING I KNOW I LEARNED FROM TV: PHILOSOPHY FOR THE UNREPENTANT COUCH POTATO by Marc Rowlands (ISBN 978-0-091-89835-9) covers philosophy as expressed in:
My problem was that the only one of these I had watched in its entirety was "The Sopranos". I had seen the first three seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the Halloween shows of "The Simpsons", and two or three episodes of "Seinfeld" when we were in a hotel room with nothing else to watch. The result was that most of the examples and comparisons that Rowlands makes go right past me. But if you have watched all these shows, maybe you will get more out of this than I did.
We just watched GETTYSBURG again. This was the ninth time I had seen it since 1999, plus once in the theater and at least once on videotape in the 1990s. And I have to say that Joy Todd does not get enough credit for her work on this film. That you are now asking yourself, "Who is Joy Todd?" is proof of this. Joy Todd was the casting director, and how she managed to find excellent actors who looked enough like the historical people they were laying that you could easily match the actors up with the historical photos.
And each time I watch GETTYSBURG, I realize again how a film like this cannot be duplicated. (Turner tried with GODS AND GENERALS, and failed.) Just as the Russian version of WAR AND PEACE had spectacular battle scenes because it had the Soviet Army at its disposal, GETTYSBURG had thousands of basically free extras, who provided their own costumes and props, were satisfied with tents to sleep in, and probably had more historical expertise among them than all the previous Civil War films combined. In a sense, it was the spirit of Dunkirk--enough sufficiently motivated volunteers can work wonders. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all. --Samuel Butler
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