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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/27/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 48, Whole Number 1651
Table of Contents
Nebula Awards Winners:
The CDC and the Zombie Apocalypse (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The Centers for Disease Control have published a web page on what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse:
"There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency."
You can't make this stuff up. Or as Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." [-ecl]
Tuna Brands (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been looking at the cans of tuna fish in our cupboard. Where do they get these strange brand names? First there's Bumble Bee Tuna. Now ordinarily tuna and bumblebees just do not come in very close contact. Living, as tuna do, in water I doubt that very many tuna have ever even seen a bumblebee. For that matter I doubt that tuna ever see the stars, much less being kissed by them as suggested by the name StarKist. Chicken of the Sea makes the most sense of any of these, but I would like to know how they believe that tuna is the maritime equivalent of chicken. For one thing, tuna is one meat that really does not taste like chicken. Would you say that chicken is tuna of the land? I don't think so. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for June (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[Note: all times given are Eastern Daylight Time.]
This is my monthly list of recommendations for Turner Classic Movies in June. TCM has a month with a bumper crop of horror/SF/fantasy genre films. I think that only in October does Turner have so many good genre films. But even so scratching around for a good obscure film or two is not easy. I can think of a lot worse double features than GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS and RODAN (Thursday, June 2, 8 PM and 9:45 PM). That is a pairing I could get behind. The problem is, I could arrange that double feature for myself any time I like. It might not be high def, but the DVD would make it look pretty good. And I could even arrange high def with Netflix Instant.
There is one fairly good obscure film coming up in June, but it is not really a genre film. It is a historical action film. I had never heard of it until less than a year ago. And it turns out to be a surprisingly good adventure film set during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. In fact, though it is entitled THE BLACK BOOK (1949), the alternate title is THE REIGN OF TERROR. The French Reign of Terror has not been used very often for thrillers. I don't think I would call an adaptation of A TALE OF TWO CITIES an action film. There have been a bunch of cinema versions of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, but not much else form that place and time comes to mind. I did not have high expectations when I first saw THE BLACK BOOK, and truthfully it is not totally successful, but the film has the pacing of a Hitchcock, or maybe even a James Bond film. It stars Robert Cummings. Okay, he is not my favorite action star, but it is filmed in atmospheric monochrome and really is film noir--unusual for a history film. The main character gets himself into one scrape after another. This Cummings character is masquerading as a public prosecutor to get his hands on Maximilian Robespierre's little black book. This book is a death list that proves that Robespierre is the murderer that history remembers him as being. Robespierre (played by Richard Basehart) is a major force behind the Reign of Terror. I think the most interesting character is the one played by Arnold Moss (the alien from THE 27TH DAY), sort of a mysterious agent. The love interest is Arlene Dahl who a decade later would be on a JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Anthony Mann directs--usually a good sign. (Thursday, June 30, 3 PM)
That is about it for films that are 1) obscure, 2) which I can personally recommend, and 3) I have not written about before. Okay, so I might ease rule 3. The first film I ever recorded on a VCR was SO LONG AT THE FAIR. I can remember watching one scene about five times just because I could. This is an early film directed by Terrence Fisher before he became Hammer Films's most respected director. The story is quite familiar, being a dramatization of a popular urban legend. This film is a remake of EYES OF MYSTERY (1932) and was remade for The Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show. Jean Simmons plays a young woman traveling with her brother. They stay at a fancy hotel getting separate rooms. Over night the brother disappears, which would be strange enough, but also his hotel room seems to wink out of existence and nobody can remember the room or the brother ever existed. Dirk Bogarde is along and tries to help Simmons find her brother and to stay sane. It is not easy to guess from the film that Terrence Fisher was less than a decade away from being an icon of horror filmmaking. It would have been just as hard for Fisher, who always felt indifferent toward horror films. (Tuesday, June 14, 9:45 PM)
I will call to your attention to RUN FOR THE SUN. The IMDB lists more than ten film versions of Richard Connell's story "The Most Dangerous Game." This one was the first time it was shot in widescreen and Technicolor and with a big budget. The names were changed so it is not quite so obvious that this is a remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). Not great, but the film is entertaining. Trevor Howard menaces Richard Widmark in the jungles of Mexico. (Sunday, June 26, 2:30 AM)
I suppose it is not accurate to call J'ACCUSE a zombie movie, but in a sense it is. This is a silent, anti-war film that is slow and a little self-important. It is remembered mostly for a sequence at the end when all of the dead of World War I return from their graves to admonish the living for allowing the horrible war to happen. And classic silent film director Abel Gance films it horrifically. (I would say that there are better reasons to avoid war than just that the dead may come back and complain.) You might want to watch just the last half hour if you think it is likely you would give up on it before. (Monday, June 6, 12 AM) [-mrl]
Another Mystery Solved (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Do you ever wonder why you see so many Virginia state quarters, but have yet to see a single quarter commemorating the Northern Mariana Islands? Many of you probably didn't even realize there was a Northern Mariana Islands quarter, or perhaps even that there was a Northern Mariana Islands.) Part of it is obviously that the Virginia coins have been in circulation longer (since 2000), hence are more distributed. But even the Alaska and Hawaii coins from 2008 are much more common than those for the Northern Mariana Islands from 2009. This is all part of the economic crisis. We just don't need as many new quarters every few months. They minted 1,594,616,000 Virginia quarters, 517,600,000 Hawaii quarters, and just 72,800,000 Northern Mariana Islands quarters.
They have now switched to "America the Beautiful" National Parks and Monuments coins. The first ones were issued in 2010; I have yet to see any of them either. The first, Hot Springs National Park, had just 42,400,000 minted. [-ecl]
Superman (letter of comment by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In response to Taras Wolansky's comments on Superman "[planning] to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations" in the 05/06/11 issue of the MT VOID, Evelyn writes:
I thought that one had to renounce American citizenship at a United States diplomatic office, not someplace like the United Nations.
But when did Superman become an American citizen anyway? His parents smuggled him into the United States, he has no visas or other documentation, he took a job under an assumed name, and he spends time operating outside the law. As noted by Kinky and others, Superman is a classic illegal alien. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
CITIZEN IN SPACE by Robert Sheckley (Ballantine, 1962, no ISBN) was Mark's choice for this month's science fiction discussion group. Mark is a fan of the "Golden Age" of science fiction, particularly Robert Sheckley, and though this collection has long been out of print, luckily there were copies available on the used market. (It has also been put on-line illegally on a server in Russia that seems to be working at putting a *lot* of works on-line.)
The first story, "The Mountain Without a Name" seems like it is going to be just another "Earthmen invade another planet and get their come-uppance from the 'backward' natives." It isn't.
"The Accountant" is one of those "reversal" stories. Usually the parents want the child to follow some practical career and the child wants something off the wall. Here the parents want the child to be a wizard, but the child wants to be an accountant. Move along, nothing to see here.
"Hunting Problem" is yet another reversal, with an alien "Scouter" hunting "mirashes", which we find out very early on are humans. And because we find this out early, we are expecting some other twist at the end of the story.
"A Thief in Time" might almost be the inspiration for "Paycheck"-- the protagonist in "A Thief in Time" is told by a time traveler that he will invent a time machine. He ends up traveling to the future and discovering that (on a previous trip?) he has stolen an odd assortment of items: lifebelts, shark repellant, micro-copies of world literature, hand mirrors, carrot seeds, .... Naturally, as the story progresses, we (and he) discover why these items were necessary.
"The Luckiest Man in the World" is another fairly predictable story, and as such seems to go on much longer than it needs to.
"Hands Off" is a combination "first-contact" and slapstick story. Humans try to operate an alien craft they have found (well, stolen) with somewhat less success--but more realistically--than the Americans had with U-571 in the movie of the same name.
"Something for Nothing" is a story about the dangers involved in relying on credit and a good credit rating to acquire what you want. Alas, the main character cannot just declare bankruptcy and start over.
At forty pages,"Ticket to Tranai" is the longest of the stories.
While there is much to like in its depiction of a "utopia" with no
crime, no poverty, and hardly any government, I cannot help but
note that the characterization of women in it leaves a lot to be
desired. I can understand how the rationale Sheckley gives for
their attitude might seem reasonable, but only based on 1950s
And as you might suspect, the "no crime, no poverty, and hardly any government" aspects of Tranai turn out to be not what Goodman expects.
Sheckley seems a bit prescient regarding the current decline of public services, and the concurrent enrichment of the few:
"Marvin Goodman had lived most of his life in Seakirk, New Jersey, a town controlled by one political boss or another for close to fifty years. Most of Seakirk's inhabitants were indifferent to the spectacle of corruption in high places and low, the gambling, the gang wars, the teen-age drinking. They were used to the sight of their roads crumbling, their ancient water mains bursting, their power plants breaking down, their decrepit old buildings falling apart, while the bosses built bigger homes, longer swimming pools and warmer stables. People were used to it."
I really liked "The Battle", but I have a fondness for theological science fiction: science fiction where the "what if?" is "what if Christianity [or some other religion, but it is usually Christianity] is literally true?" In this case, the question is, what will happen during the Final Battle between humanity and the minions of Satan, particularly if humanity brings its advanced technology to bear? It's not what you think.
"Skulking Permit" is almost the flip side of "A Ticket to Tranai": there is a utopia which has been out of contact with Earth for generations, and now that contact has been re-established the colonists want to do their best to prove how normal and conformist they are, including creating a jail and a criminal. The story is just a bit too twee, though, and the ending is just too convenient and unbelievable.
The title story, "Citizen in Space", is about ubiquitous government surveillance. Written during the McCarthy era, it still (or perhaps again) has relevance in a world where the FBI attaches GPS units to people's cars and you need to have a full body scan to fly to Grandma's house.
And the final story, "Ask a Foolish Question", is not even really a story at all, but a philosophical musing on the function of background in illocutionary acts. If you don't understand what that means, well, that's the point.
When we were in Italy, we heard a lot about THE LIVES OF THE ARTISTS by Giorgio Vasari, so when I saw it at a book sale (translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella) (ISBN 978-0-19-281754-9) for only a dollar, I picked it up. It was a bit of a disappointment to discover that this was an abridged edition, particularly since there was barely any indication of this on the cover--just some text in the description saying that Vasari wrote about "hundreds of artists" and that this was a translation of "thirty-six of the most important lives." On the other hand, it could be that an unabridged edition would be too long, with too much about minor artists and too much minor information about major artists.
As it is, there is a lot of detailed description of works Vasari attributed to the artists (often erroneously). Vasari wrote in the mid-16th century, so you'd think he would have more accurate information, but he apparently did not let such things as accuracy stand in the way of a good story--witness what the translator's call "his engrossing account of how Andrea del Castagno murdered Domenico Veneziano." The fact that del Castagno died in 1457, but Veneziano lived until 1461 does not seem to have bothered Vasari at all.
Vasari does cover the major influences of many of the artists, such as Paolo Uccello's obsession with perspective, but it seems like this book would be more meaningful if I had read it with the works (or photos thereof) in front of me. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Comfort, or revelation: God owes us one of these, but surely not both. --Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook
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