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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/03/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 49, Whole Number 1652
Table of Contents
June 9 (Thu): I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of the book and 1960 film after film June 23 (Thu): THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert , Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 14 (Thu): COLOSSUS THE FORBIN PROJECT by D. F. Jones, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of the book and film after film July 28 (Thu): DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Problem of the Week: How'd He Do It? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the 27-second YouTube link below Orson Welles, who was a decent stage magician, produces a goose seemingly out of nothing. I don't expect this to be difficult, but the problem is to figure out how the trick of producing the goose works.
I will announce the names of people who figured it out. [-mrl]
Five-Book Worldcon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the spirit of "One Book New Jersey" et al, for the past several years Worldcons have scheduled book discussions (usually one each of the five days) of classic speculative fiction works. This year Renovation has chosen:
Only from the Mind of Man ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You may have heard about Kopi Luwak, the very fine coffee that is created by feeding the coffee beans to a civet, letting the beans go through its digestive system and then retrieving the beans from its digestive "leavings".
My question is what else did they try and with what animals before they came upon this process? [-mrl]
The Assemblage of Julio (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The New York Times reported on how Julio Garcia had donated organs to seven or eight people, and that Garcia's widow and children met four of the recipients in a group gathering a year later. And I immediately thought of the memorable James Morrow story, "The Assemblage of Kristin". The science fictional elements are missing (I assume), but the image of a meeting of all the recipients of the organs from a single person is a powerful one.
Details can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/health/17organ.html.
A Bad Weekend for 3D (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am writing this on Memorial Day and already there seems to be big entertainment news for this weekend. The big news of the weekend seems to be what did not happen. What did not happen is crowds did not turn out in large numbers to see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES in 3D. Pundits seem to be making predictions of the "death of 3D" based just on this one weekend's disappointing take.
At our local theater to see the pirate opus in the evening in 3D costs a hefty $15. If you want to see it without benefit of heavy glasses it costs only--did I say "only"?--$11. The non-3D version is apparently doing nicely, but it seems that very few people will pony up $4 more to see the film in 3-D. Now part of reasoning might be that the prospect of cuddling up close to a fluffy Kung Fu Panda might be more inviting than brushing into the pointedly unhygienic Jack Sparrow. Personally I do not think that one film's business is that strong a predictor. But for months now cinema pundits have been disagreeing on whether 3D is really a good thing and if it is a cinematic feature that will last. A lot rides on it since now the electronics industry is rolling out 3D video. When I go to Costco or an electronics story they have demonstrations of 3D TV, but they do not seem to be attracting anyone. There is a deafening lack of interest.
I have to say that 3D films initially impressed me, but it was the process itself impressed me. I am not really sure I ever thought that 3D was the future of cinema. If one looks at the enhancements to cinema that the public has embraced, it was always to move toward pulling the viewer comfortably and naturally into the action. Photographs were good representations of how the eye saw people but they stood still. Real people move and hence we got the motion picture. And you can look at a motion picture as easily as a still picture. But the real world makes noise and people talk. They talk in sounds, not in written title cards, so movies learned how to talk and you could hear what they were saying not by reading but by just listening. Movies at one time just showed pictures in shades of gray from white to black. People come in lots of different colors and their clothing and the world in many more shades. So color films came along and the public embraced them. You can look at a scene in color just the way you would one in black and white. Now people are not flat, 2-dimensional images like projections on a wall, and along came 3D. But seeing 3D images is anything but natural. First of all you had to wear those red-cyan glasses to see the images. As time went by better processes replaced the red-cyan, but you still had to wear glasses of one sort or another. Of course lots of people wear glasses, but 3D meant wearing an additional pair. And there is nothing natural about wearing two pairs of glasses, one over the other.
What did wearing the glasses add? People never really were 2-dimensional in film. Even from a photograph the viewers' eyes pick up all sorts of clues as to depth from shape and shadow. The viewer does not have a strong sense of depth perception from a flat image, but there is some depth perception. 3D adds less than you might think to the viewing experience, and the extra pair of glasses is anything but natural.
Another problem with 3D is that it requires more labor than non-3D films do. There was a time when a theater would have one screen and a projectionist stayed with the projector to change reels and to make sure that the film was being projected properly. These days theaters are much more automated and you do not even have one person full-time involved with projection on a number of screens that can to into the dozens. Theaters seem to be run by high school kids, and few enough of them. If a picture is out of focus you can report it and it takes ten minutes for some teenager to go up and fix the problem. The current 3D process involves putting a special lens in front of the camera to separate the picture into alternating left and right-handed images. In many theaters to save effort they leave the lens in place even for non-3D films giving a duller and darker screen image. And some theaters use under-powered light projection to save money. Theaters just are not willing to make the commitment to make sure both 3D and non-3D films are projected with a quality image. For a theater to have both 3D and non-3D film requires extra effort that theaters frequently are not willing to make.
The film AVATAR had some impressive flying sequences and they were fun for a little while, and that was what made the movie enjoyable. But the writing was not especially good. At the time the 3D really did a lot for the film. But the flying experience was similar to the ones in other films (notably HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON) and now it might not be worth $4 extra for most people to see it in 3D. If a film like AVATAR were to come out next week I do not think it would do as well at the box office. There are only a limited number of experiences like flying that 3D really enhances. Films will go through those experiences quickly. 3D will lose its charm.
I expect that if the entertainment industry expects 3D to be a gold mine, they will be very disappointed. [-mrl]
THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N. K. Jemisin (copyright 2010, Orbit, $7.99, 425pp, ISBN 978-0-316-04392-2) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, I looked at the list of Hugo-nominated novels when it came out on Easter Sunday, and my first reaction was something like "you have got to be kidding me--this is the best we can come up with?" I'll be the first to admit that I rarely nominate, mostly because I don't read enough of the eligible year's books to make intelligent nominations. This year I *did* nominate three or four novels, a couple of which did end up on the list, but I only nominated them because they were better than most of what I read from last year. In hindsight, that's not the way to nominate books, but I figured that at least they were books that I cared about, and if they made the list I would be pleased, if nothing else.
My second reaction was "oh look, I've read 1 and a half of them already--I'm ahead of the game". Then I looked at the remaining 3.5 books and decided that it was going to be a rough go of it. You know my tastes by this time--not fantasy, science fiction please. So I see what looks like a zombie novel, a definite fantasy, and a book from an author whose work I dislike a whole lot. What's a reader to do?
Imagine my surprise, then, when I decided to read THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS first (the theory being to "get the fantasy out of the way early") and upon completion, found it to be a pretty good book.
Our female protagonist (I hesitate to call her our heroine) is one Yeine Darr, and she's from a barbarian kingdom in the north. One day she is summoned by her grandfather, Dekarta Arameri, the king of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to Sky, a large city on the Semn continent (and also the family palace). Once she is there, she is named one of three heirs to the throne. This comes as a complete surprise to her, given her current lot in life. True, her mother Kinneth was also an heir to the throne, but she died under curious circumstances. Yeine is lost in Sky, with no friends, and no real understanding of why she is there.
But then, she gets friends. They may not be the kind of friends you'd normally want, but they're friends. They're gods.
It seems that in the beginning, there were three gods: Itempas, the Bright Lord and Skyfather; Nahadoth, the Nightlord, and Enefa, the Betrayer. She's dead. There are also a bunch of godlings, who are children of the three. The one we're most concerned with here is Sieh, who appears young and has a very strange attraction to Yeine. Itempas still rules everything, and worship of the other two is expressly forbidden (never mind that one of them is dead anyway). Nahadoth is bound into a sort of slavery, controlled by Scimina, one of the three heirs to the throne. Nahadoth has opposed Itempas in the past, and continues to oppose him into the time of the novel.
What ensues, then, is a power struggle. One of the three (Scimina, Yeine, and Relad, the twin brother of Scimina) will get the throne. However, nothing is ever that simple, is it now? No, of course it isn't. The whole succession to the throne deal is a massive power struggle involving all *three* gods--yeah, I said three--as well as all three humans--well, four, if you count Dekarta. And the resolution to the situation is satisfying at the very least.
THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS blindsided me because it was a book that I wasn't expecting; while magic and the supernatural are a huge part of the story, they don't overwhelm it. The political maneuvering is believable and intriguing. The use of the gods and godlings in this story interested me. I was pleased there were no pointy hats and pointy ears. This was a pretty good novel--it's Jemisin's first. Her writing style is clear, concise, and easy to read. Even though there were some terms that were specific to the story--she even has an appendix with terms in it--I found that I didn't have to look at it while I was reading the novel. This was a pleasant, relaxing, engaging read.
So, is this a potential Hugo winner? I don't think so. In some ways I liked it better than CRYOBURN as a potential winner. That book was too lightweight and formulaic to be a winner. This book is not formulaic in my opinion, and I found myself more interested in it than CRYOBURN as I was reading it.
This is also the first book in a series. Having said that, it wraps itself up very nicely and really could be a standalone fantasy (a contradiction in terms, I know). However, was it good enough to convince me to pick up book 2? No, probably not, but I'm not completely averse to the idea.
So, 2.5 books in, I still don't think I've found the Hugo winner. [-jak]
LA FEMME NIKITA and Bin Laden--ONE SECOND AFTER (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
After I submitted my recent "La Femme Nikita Mega-compendium Review" to the MTVOID, I discovered that I had left out a bit of argumentation and example that I wished to mention. I realized that by mentioning the "ham-fisted methods" of the CIA I was really referring to, for example, the various attempts to kill Castro in the early 1960s, and that in the post-9/11 world the CIA had adopted a new approach to assassination--the robotic drone. Flying robotic drones are completely expendable, utterly fearless, and increasingly capable. Predictably, the CIA is using them more and more, with considerable effect. This is truly an idea out of SF--and a pretty scary idea at that.
The problem with robotic drones is that our enemies increasingly come to believe that we are weak cowards, capable of killing only from a safe computer screen in a bunker in Colorado. Also, although far more accurate than WWII style bombing raids, there is still considerable collateral damage and sometimes complete misfires, with attendant apologies and hand-wringing.
My further thought was that the real fantasy element in LFN-TV1 is that there actually *is* a capable, tough, ruthless, and amoral agency protecting Americans against terrorists. As we found on 9/11 to our great regret, Operations Madeline, Michael, and Nikita are simply make-believe. Our real protectors were some combination of asleep, stupid, or incompetent, and 3,000 died as a result.
I might have left that thought rattling in my brain without putting pen to paper [or fingers to the keyboard!!] when along came a really big event--the USA killed Bin Laden. In one fell swoop the reputation of the USA as being capable of assassination, especially personal, up front, I put a gun in your face and blow you away assassination, went from "fagetaboutit" to "USA #1." In a daring mission, forty SEALs flew four stealth helicopters of a new type into the heart of Pakistan, attacked a fortified compound, and in a brief firefight killed Bin Laden and a number of his henchmen while gathering a "treasure trove" of documentation that reveals Bin Laden as being much more involved in day to day operations than previously thought. This attack is said to be based on many years of painstaking tracking of clues by the CIA.
So, the "ham-fisted" description no longer fits the CIA and the US Military. In fact, their ability to conduct assassination operations probably now exceeds that of the Mossad, whose recent Dubai assassination of a Hamas figure seemed overly elaborate and poorly thought out. It is no longer speculation to assert that the USA has at its disposal a group of operators every bit as skilled as the characters of Nikita and Michael in LFN-TV1, and certainly the real-life equivalent of "Operations" to manage them. In fact, "Operations" might be actually be one of the white haired guys present in the room with Obama watching things go down.
It has also come to light that information gained from "enhanced interrogation" techniques had some role in finding Bin Laden. This has, predictably, led to another round of controversy, but we know that at least for a period of years, something very much like "the white room" in LFN-TV1 did exist, and possibly still exists. There may even have been a "Madeline" running the room--numerous reports have appeared commenting on "torture chicks" who were involved in interrogations.
Oddly, a previously unknown woman who somewhat resembles "Madeline" of LFN-TV1 appears in the back of the picture where Obama is watching the operation data feeds. It has been reported that she is Audrey F. Tomason, 'Director for Counterterrorism'. Very little is known about who she is, and until this point in time, she was completely unknown. However, if we are to believe this article, http://tinyurl.com/void-tomason, she has been involved in some rather Madeline-like activities. And she really bears an uncanny resemblance to Madeline in LFN-TV1.
You might ask, "What is it that motivates Americans--well-fed, lazy, decadent Americans--to take such risks and fight so well? Is it merely training, professionalism, patriotism, and pride?" These are important, but I neglected another motivational meme in my earlier essay--perceived lack of choices. The characters in LFN-TV1 are criminals with a limited set of choices. Their life with Section One may actually be better than their previous lives. As Americans found in Vietnam, no one fights so fanatically as someone who has nothing to lose, and has already lost their family and friends. Without fully intending to do so, Bin Laden laid the groundwork for his own demise. 9/11 killed 3,000 and left a deep sense of vulnerability in America. Many joined the armed services at this time and served multiple tours of combat duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. At first they were green amateurs, but after multiple tours of in your face combat against fanatic insurgents, and the loss of many comrades, they developed the skills and the ruthlessness needed to take down Bin Laden.
This story has the same ending as many past stories--a hubristic enemy interprets America's freedoms as weakness, and launches an attack, certain of victory over the pasty-faced, soft-handed, morally weak Americans. America reaches deep inside and transforms itself into a weapon capable of crushing this enemy, and does so with a ruthlessness that the enemy cannot believe even as death comes for them. They die, never quite understanding that more Americans have died fighting EACH OTHER than fighting outside enemies, and that this might mean something!!!
Still, I can predict the future. After a while, defense budgets will be cut, and all the competent CIA agents will retire. America will once again contemplate its navel. Years, then decades will pass. American will boom once again, and freedom will reach new heights. Somewhere in a cave, a slum or a bunker, someone will be working on a plan to bring down the hated Americans, who slumber, drunk on the glory of it all. One day, one bright sunny day ... a day a lot like 9/11, they will strike. And the strike will be a complete surprise--STUXNET on steroids, a gene-engineered plague, or something completely different.
For one well-written, frightening, brutal vision of this day, read ONE SECOND AFTER by William R. Forstchen [Larry-Niven-endorsed on the jacket blurb], which tells the tale of a not so far in the future EMP attack on America. A recommended and worthy updating of ALAS, BABYLON, be warned that it is more graphic and realistic than most books of this type. Think about it while you are filling those emergency water bottles. [-dls]
At the suggestion of readers the MT VOID will try to limit political discussion in the future. This is a form of polemicist repellent. Wild sex is still okay.
Also, you say, "The problem with robotic drones is that our enemies increasingly come to believe that we are weak cowards, capable of killing only from a safe computer screen in a bunker in Colorado." Do we care? I thought that a very important feature of any weapon is keeping the person wielding that weapon safe. At Agincourt, was it unsporting of Henry to let his men to use the longbow rather than going in for close action with cutlery? Armor for self-protection is perfectly acceptable in warfare, and few kinds of armor are more effective than a layer of air several thousand miles thick. [-mrl]
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The life of the Yiddish story-writer Sholem Aleichem mirrors the changing, often tragic, world of Eastern European Jewry in the late 19th and early 20th century. Writer/Producer/Director Joseph Dorman lovingly crafts a biographical documentary of the often beautiful, often tragic life in shtetl communities. As the title suggests this is a portrait of a people living in constant hardship and keeping themselves sane with a bit of humor. The telling is as sweet as honey cake and as bitter as horseradish. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10 Full disclosure: I believe I am descended from people who lived in the sort of shtetl Jews depicted in this film. I might have a little bias.
My Chinese officemate once borrowed from me the film FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. While he had it his father watched the movie and said it was a very Chinese story. Sholem Aleichem (often spelled "Sholom" or "Shalom") had crafted the characters of his stories with wit and authenticity enough that his readers (and film viewers) could see themselves and people they knew in the stories. He gave us portraits of people who are at once very Jewish but with whom anyone can identify. In Tevye's ideal world he would do little but study the Holy Books in the Jewish way. But along the way he might want to be a rich man like a Rothschild. And who would not?
Sholem Aleichem's pictures of Eastern European Jewish life can honestly be called "beloved" but also nostalgic as that world was dying even as the wrote about it. These days most Americans who have heard of Sholem Aleichem know him predominately for writing the "Tevye" stories on which the 1971 film FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was based. But Americans may not know that Sholem Aleichem was largely responsible for founding a rich literature in Yiddish and he was considered the greatest writer of that literature. It was a vibrant literature that nearly died out and only in recent years is returning to life.
The phrase "Sholem Aleichem" is a greeting meaning "peace be upon you." (For that reason it is hard to refer to him as just "Aleichem".) It was chosen as the penname of Sholem Rabinovich (1852-1916). SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESSS is the story of the author, the language, and the fate of the once thriving culture of Eastern European Jewry. As one interviewee points out, Sholem Aleichem did not use humor as an escape from the harsh realities of Jewish life but to put even the pain in perspective. By writing about poor people and making them seem important, at least for the length of the story, it made them feel a little more important themselves. He wrote in his stories the joys, foibles, and fears that Eastern European Jews faced. His "Tevye" stories are the best remembered, but they are only a small part of his writing. Equally memorable is the fast-talking wheeler-dealer Menahem-Mendl and the super-optimist, Motl, the Cantor's son, who has a sense of wonder about everything.
When Sholem Aleichem wrote about character he was in large part writing about himself and his world. Tevye, we learn in the film, was always the same age as Sholom Aleichem. If the author did not write a "Tevye" story for five years when he picked up his pen Tevye was five years older than in the last story. When Tevye was angry that his first daughter chose a husband for herself, it was because Tevye feared the independence that the changing world had brought to the young. When he wrote about Tevye's second daughter's marriage social upheaval had disturbed the author's life. Tevye had seen inter-religious marriage and assimilation in his own world and he was writing about his fears. He recorded the lives of the Jews who lived in towns and the smaller, mostly Jewish villages called "shtetls." Most of his stories were set in the fictional Shtetl Kasrilevke (changed to Anatevka in "Fiddler on the Roof") in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Even today his stories are the best records of the flavor of life in the shtetls.
Sholem Aleichem wrote his earliest works in the formal Hebrew language, but for his stories to reach the people he soon began writing in the day-to-day language of the Jewish people, Yiddish. He wrote with wit and profundity. Yiddish was more than just the common language, it was, as the film points out, a sort of "portable homeland of the Jew." Sholem Aleichem solicited and collected stories by others written in Yiddish and did much of the founding of Yiddish-language literature. The Jews responded to his writing and it became a common tradition among the shtetl Jews to read a Sholem Aleichem story after weekly Sabbath dinner on Friday nights.
With archive footage and interviews with literature experts, Aaron Lansky (founder of the National Yiddish Book Center), Bel Kaufmann (granddaughter of Sholem Aleichem who brought his style wit wedded to serious issues with her book UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE.) Colorful selections of Sholem Aleichem's prose are very well read to spice the narrative.
For me this was a beautiful film--a small gem. Spiced with the wit of Sholem Aleichem, it sweetens the heartbreaking accounts of pogroms and helps to make the sadness a little more bearable. I rate SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS will be released to theaters on July 8, 2011.
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-laughing
ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In this documentary the elephant Flora became tired and bored with performing at Circus Flora. Owner and caregiver David Balding was faced with the question of finding a situation in which his beloved elephant would be happy for what could be forty years. This was much harder than keeping, caring for, and training the circus elephant the previous sixteen years. The animal cannot return to the wild and there is little provision in the United States keeping an elephant happy. In the end this documentary questions the entire institution of keeping wild animals in circuses and zoos. It is a statement on the relationship of humans and animals. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
When dealing with a person and trying to find what that person wants you have two good tools. You have what the person says and how he/she behaves. When dealing with an animal, even an intelligent and social animal like an elephant, there is no language communication and the animal's behavior is difficult to interpret because it crosses species lines. When Circus Flora's elephant Flora got to about age eighteen it was clear that she no longer was getting much pleasure from performing for audiences. If an elephant becomes unhappy that is a bad enough situation, but with ten thousand pounds of mass and that much strength the massive animal can become very dangerous. And a sufficiently disturbed elephant may give no human-detectable signs of anger one minute and can be a killer the next. Director and co-writer Lisa Leeman brings her documentary cameras to follow Flora's owner-and-trainer David Balding who is facing the most difficult decisions of his life trying to find where Flora will be happy. As an example, when Flora is placed in an elephant sanctuary the woman running it asked Balding not to visit Flora. Balding and his wife see what is happening is like having a daughter in boarding school who would be cheered to see her loved ones periodically. At the sanctuary the assumption is that Flora is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrific loss of her real mother and visits from the Baldings would bring up feelings of abandonment. There is no good way to ask the elephant.
The film covers Balding's nine-year search for a home where he hoped Flora would be happy--and the hope that such a place even exists. At every step Balding understands that in the end he might know if he has failed and Flora is unhappy, but he can never know if he has succeeded and given her peace of mind.
Balding goes from one plan to the next. Initially, he hopes to resettle Flora in Botswana. This may be the best of alternatives--to return Flora to Africa and the wild. But the political sands shift making the Botswana plan impossible. And as the search goes on from 2000 to 2008 with Flora becoming more disturbed and frequently unhappier. Flora is placed in a zoo while David searches for a more permanent home, but then she attacks one of the zoo staff. In the end we can never know if Flora is happy. For all we know she might have preferred going back to the circus, though that option is not discussed.
The title of this film is both straightforward and ironic. One could hardly call "lucky" an elephant who saw her mother killed by humans and who was brought literally in chains to a part of the world very different from her home and is kept in imprisonment and loneliness for the rest of her life. As much pleasure as she had ever gotten from performing before people, the best that could be hoped for is to be able to interpret from her behavior that she was not always very unhappy in performing. But now at the end of that "career" it is giving her no pleasure. If Flora had really been "lucky" she and her mother would have lived in the wild to an old age. But perhaps was "lucky" in some senses. Humans can be very selfish and uncaring toward animals, but at least Flora had David Balding who loved her and sincerely tried to do what Flora would want, even if that was only choosing the best of some bad alternatives. To the extent Flora was lucky, it was having the devotion of Balding. Flora does seem to end in stable circumstances, but her fate is questionable as giving a happy ending to the film. One of the members of the Circus Flora suggests that wild animals should be left in the wild. The statement is given little emphasis, but in the end that is probably the message of the film. The film lists five countries that have banned uisng wild animals in circuses and the film makes a subtle but powerful statement that that really is the best policy.
ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT is a true and very real account of a man-animal relationship. It is the type of film that might well return to the viewer every time the viewer sees animals in a circus or zoo. I rate ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1053902/
Superman (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Evelyn's comments about Superman in the 05/27/11 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
1) I believe that citizenship of the United States can renounced by contacting any sufficiently authorized member of the United States immigration service, who could conceivably be found at the United Nations.
2) At one point, Superman was an honorary citizen of every country in the world. Of course this would make renouncing United States citizenship take on interesting connotations unless accompanied by a renunciation of all other citizenships as well.
3) An alternative approach to Superman's status is the foundling statute, 8 USC 1401(f). "The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth ... (f) a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States." While rarely applied in the real world, a court could apply this to Superman.
Superman certainly had unknown parentage when he was found in the United States under the age of five years. The real crux is the meaning of 'until shown ... not to have been born in the United States.' In most (if not all) continuities, Superman's true origin was revealed to the Kent's and to him before he turned 21, but a court could decide that 'shown' means 'legally proven.' So long as Superman's immigration status were not an issue before he turned 21, which seems likely, he may indeed be considered a United States citizen.
Interesting point. Superman seems to travel rather freely from country to country. Without that honorary citizenship (and even with it), hasn't he been violating international transportation/immigration laws by avoiding customs checks? [-pir]
Evelyn replies, "What exactly is 'honorary citizenship'? Does it confer any of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, such as voting rights or registering for the draft?" [-ecl]
Tuna Brands (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on tuna brands in the 05/27/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
[You write,] "Would you say that chicken is tuna of the land? I don't think so."
I'll bet I'm not the only one who ever did go around saying that, nor am I likely to be the only one who ever referred to ships as camels of the sea.
A friend of mine urged me to draw a cartoon of an explorer urging chicken on a native by telling him it tastes just like iguana. I pointed out that he was well capable of drawing it himself, but eventually gave in and did it. [-kw]
Tuna Brands, "Skulking Permit", and UFOs (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Mark's comments on tuna brands in the 05/27/11 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
I have often wondered why you don't find "Tuna of the Land" brand canned chicken on your supermarket shelves. But you beat me to the joke. While we're on the subject of fish, I remember hearing a vaguely Country & Western song by a pair named Pinkard and Bowden, and goes as follows:
I was a cook and she was a waitress Down at the Salty Sam Seafood Café and somewhere 'tween the clam juice and the seaweed salad some little shrimp just lured her away Oh, I lobster and never flounder He wrapped his line around her and they drove off in his carp Oh, I lobster and never flounder I octopus his face in Eel only break her heart I said, "Just squid and leave me for that piano tuna if you want to trout something new" She was the bass I ever had Now my life has no porpoise Oh my cod, I love her, yes, I do Oh, I lobster and never flounder He wrapped his line around her and they drove off in his carp Oh, I lobster and never flounder I octopus his face in Eel only break her heart (Spoken:) P: "Boy, I swordfish she'd come back to me, Sandy. I shore'd a whale of a time." B: "Now, Richard, you know she'd just pull that 'Not tonight, I've got a haddock' routine." P: "You're probably right. But y'know, I've kelped her picture in my walleye just for the halibut. I wonder if she's still got mine in her perch?" B: "Did you..you say 'perch'?" "Yeah, I'm afraid so." P: "That's good. For a moment there, I thought I was losing my herring." (audience groans) B: "Well, we bass squid all this seahorsing around before these people out here go into a state of shark." P: "Yeah, if we get out of here alive, it's going to be a...mackerel." B: "Frankly scallop, I don't give a clam."
I found it at http://www.themadmusicarchive.com/song_details.aspx?SongID=5039, and there is a performance on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAJA4Ur7Xy8. [-sl]
Mark adds, "The ocean floor seems to be a rich source of pun material. Dr. Demento used to play "Wet Dream" a record that was similarly made of sea puns. It can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGceb4If8PY." [-mrl]
In response to Evelyn's comments on Robert Sheckley's "Skulking Permit" in the same issue, Sam writes:
The title "Skulking Permit" brings to mind Ogden Nash's poem "I'm Sure She Said Six-Thirty", in which the last line (as so often in Nash's verse) says it all:
Remember the password, which, uttered in a tone of quiet despair, is the explanation of anyone's standing around anywhere at any hour for any length of time: "I'm waiting for my wife".
There, a reason to skulk, or lurk, or loiter with or without a permit. [-sl]
And Sam also writes:
A propos of nothing, there was a program on one of the PBS channels this evening about a "UFO in Illinois", about a series of reasonably well-attested sightings (between 4 AM and 5 AM on a January day in 2000) of a mysterious triangular craft floating in an arc about 20-odd miles east of St Louis. By well-attested, I mean several of the sightings were by on-duty policemen who are, by the nature of their job, careful observers, not given to exaggeration. The program drew no conclusions; the case remains open. Both Carla and I are familiar with that part of Illinois, as her ex came from there, and I lived in St Louis for a while back in the late '60s; and we visit St Louis fairly often.
And a propos of strange sightings, she reminded me that her late mother and father are buried in "Area 51". Alas, not the mysterious place in Nevada, but rather in Block 51 in Oak Ridge Cemetary here in Springfield, within sight of Lincoln's Tomb. But it's Area 51 to us. [-sl]
U-571 (lettert of comment by Rob Mitchell):
In response to Evelyn's comments about the film U-571 in the 05/27/11 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell asked:
Out of curiosity, what was 'unrealistic' about the Allies taking over U-571? As a submariner, I have my own thoughts, but I was wondering what yours were.... [-rm]
What was unrealistic was the idea that they could learn how to run it in about ten minutes, when no one even spoke German. [-ecl]
Hmm. I'll have to watch the film again, but I thought they specifically indicated they had 1 German speaker. I agree, that's not enough.
For me, the biggest concern was the Control Room. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief enough to believe one diesel generator looks like another, and operates similarly. However, the layout of the Control Room, and all the little-bitty controls therein, could be totally different. Sure, the big stuff like steering is obvious, but how do you raise and lower the snorkel mast? Is there one control that does both? Separate controls that override each other? Where are they? Can you use them immediately, or do you have to charge the applicable hydraulic lines first? If the latter, where and how do you do that?
Multiply those questions by about two orders of magnitude, and you get an idea of the complexity of a diesel boat control room. Hand-waving past them makes an interesting movie, but unless at least half of the boarders knew enough German to read the panels, valves, etc., the story is like a "Star Trek" episode where the heroes fix and operate alien technology as if it was child's play... [-rm]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Once again, I have some comments peripheral to a Hugo-nominated novel but not directly *about* the novel. The novel in question is A HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N. K. Jemisin (ISBN 978-0-316-04391-5).
My comments are primarily about how this book is being promoted. The use of initials immediately suggests that the author is female, and there is an attempt to hide this (as often used to be the case). It turns out that in this case, yes, the author is female, but the use of initials is an attempt by Jemisin to distance her career as an author from her already established career as a counselor. In this regard it is the same motivation as Harry Turtledove writing his historical fiction as H. N. Turteltaub--gender has nothing to do with it.
But when an article that appeared in the Barnes & Noble newsletter promoting this book was titled "The Next Coming of Octavia E. Butler: A Hundred Thousand Reasons to Read N. K. Jemisin", the immediate (and it turns out, correct) conclusion one draws is that Jemisin is black.
In his introduction to HOWARD WHO?, George R. R. Martin wrote, "We live in a derivative age, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the books we read. Every new horror writer is compared to Stephen King. Our fantasists all seem to write in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, or Stephen R. Donaldson. The hot young talents in SF are routinely proclaimed as the next Robert A. Heinlein, the new Isaac Asimov, the angriest young man since Harlan Ellison, unless they happen to be female, in which case they are dutifully likened to Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley." Indeed, there was a book that compared one new author to all three of those female writers--writers who have little in common besides plumbing.
At Chicon 2000, there was a panel titled "Is This the Ebony Age of Science Fiction?" On it, Tananarive Due said that the "image of what a black writer should be" is limiting. And Maureen McHugh added that it would be "intensively naive" to lump all black writers together. But what is labeling Jemisin as the next Octavia Butler except an attempt to lump disparate authors together based entirely on melanin content?
It is true that Barnes & Noble attempts to show some similarities between the writings of Jemisin and of Butler. It says, "[T]here are subtle thematic similarities between Jemisin's novel ... and Butler's unfinished Parable trilogy," quotes a poem from Butler's work about how God is Change, and then says, "[A]lthough change is a significant theme in Jemisin's [work], it's only a part of the trilogy's underpinnings." But even the change that *is* there does not connect Jemisin to Butler any more than to most other speculative fiction--one might claim that change and its effects is one of the key elements of speculative fiction.
Reading Jemisin's work, I can see possible connections to various other writers, and Octavia Butler is not on the list. Why Barnes & Noble chose her seems obvious--and does not reflect well on their notion of a marketing campaign.
People who complain about the overuse in coincidence in modern novels need to read one where it's laid on with a trowel. (Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!) In BASIL by Wilkie Collins (ISBN 0-486-24015-0), the main character, Basil, falls in love with a girl he happens to see on the bus. It turns out the the girl's father's clerk (and her tutor) is the son of a man hanged for forgery because Basil's father would not forgive him. This is bad enough, but there's more. Basil and the girl marry secretly, but she continues her affair with the clerk. Finally, it has reached a stage where she has Basil completely in her power--he is stuck with her and is responsible for all her debts, but she has run off with the clerk. So what happens? She goes to visit the clerk in the hospital, accidentally runs up to the wrong bed, contracts typhus for that five-second mistake, and dies.
HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD edited by Charles Sheffield (ISBN 0-312-85577-X) was well-intentioned, I suppose, but the stories are disappointing. The themes seem pretty familiar. For example, consider the first three stories. Things are not what they seem ("Zap Thy Neighbor" by James P. Hogan, which at first glance seems similar to Robert Sheckley's "A Ticket to Tranai", but isn't). Power corrupts ("The Meetings of the Secret World Masters" by Geoffrey A. Landis)--though the solution seems a bit inspired by Hogan's story. (I'm sure it is a coincidence.) And changes have unexpected consequences ("Choice" by Lawrence Watt-Evans), though I am not convinced this would be the effect, since it does not seem to be going in that direction now. Unfortunately, these are the best stories. The others tend to be even more unlikely, or preachy, or both.
We watched the Disney film SECRETARIAT the other day, and watching the re-creation of the Belmont Stakes race, I found myself thinking of the science fiction story "The Wind Is Rising" by Robert Sheckley. In both cases the observers are sure they understand what is going on and what comes next. And in both cases (no surprise here) they are wrong. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I love mankind - it's people I can't stand. --Charles M. Schulz, GO FLY A KITE, CHARLIE BROWN
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