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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/08/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 2, Whole Number 1657
Table of Contents
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Returning... Online... Free (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Peter Nichols's excellent ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION is going to have a new edition. Since the last edition, eighteen years ago, it has doubled in size. But rather than sell it as a book, it is going to be online and free. See:
Short Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I won't say exactly what this is, but it is a 92-second film on vimeo with a surprise and it was worth 92 seconds.
Quantitative Generosity (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is a Museum of Mathematics opening next year in New York City.
Even their structure for contribution is mathematical.
Corporate/Institutional Funding Levels:
I am very enthused about this and have made myself an Additive Identity Benefactor. [-mrl]
Disney Princesses and Why We Already Have Enough (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My niece has a whole line of a plastic dolls that are Disney princesses. Now I read that by the year 2010 there were over 26,000 Disney princess products, and they are their own industry pulling in $4,000,000,000 a year. The princess thing is big business. There are now a whole lot of Disney cartoons with Princesses as the main protagonists. You know, there was Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etc. Okay, Cinderella was not born a princess but married into it more or less like Grace Kelly did. Well, you know there were a bunch of different princesses. Now there seems to be lot more, you can ask any little girl and most little girls at some point seem to aspire to be princesses. I don't think this is a very good thing. I do not much care for the pink princess role model.
I still remember wondering why princesses are so popular in Disney cartoons. What is a Disney princess, really? Riddle: What is the difference between a Disney princess and a leech? A leech has some use in medicine. A princess is just an attractive parasite. She generally does not earn anything. She makes it in the world because 1) she is attractive and 2) because of whom she is. Did you hear me mention a personality virtue there? I didn't hear me mention a personality virtue there. Take a look at a Disney film with a princess. Early on you will have a song in which the princess announces what she wants. And the rest of the story is about her getting what she wants. She wins no victories for humanity along the way. She knows what she wants and she always gets it. Her job is to make herself the best prize possible for the guy who is rescuing her.
Generally in these cartoons the princess sleeps through the real action of the film or she imposes herself on a band of little ugly men who are just as pleased as pitch because one of the pretty people will condescend to look upon their ugly dwarfish continence. Today so many little girls wanted to become useless princesses and dreamed of the day it would happen to them and Prince Charming would come tap-tap-tapping at their door.
Now, the princes that they love are not a whole lot better than the princesses are, but they are better. They also make it on their good looks and because of who they are. But they must also prove they are brave of heart. While Sleeping Beauty is getting her beauty sleep, Prince Charming is out sticking a sword in some dragon. The prince and princess each get the same reward: each other and a right to be half of the end-of-film breeding pair. Each of these Disney films has a breeding pair of prince and princess who come together at the end, presumably to breed, though Disney generally tastefully does not emphasize that point too strongly for the little children who would be seeing the film. And you have a lot of the little girls in out world who dream of being princesses. That was true even though about half were below average in the good looks department and almost none of them had courtiers who were anxious to serve her. Still, this was a constant dream for the little ladies. Boys have fewer cinematic role models who are just attractive parasites; however, Dracula was definitely one. Sadly Dracula had to die to become what he was. But boys died all the time and none came back as Dracula. There are some tiny set of girls who are or become princesses.
I hear you saying that this princess fixation goes away as the little girls get older. But I suspect it is part of the reason that bigger girls love Jane Austen novels. Jane Austen novels are frequently just Cinderella for adults. In a Jane Austen novel the main character loves a man and later discovers that the man she loves is rich, and when she gets him she also gets a mansion. Real estate was really important to Jane Austen. Or the plot is that that she discovers she detests that man who is rich, but later realizes she loved him all along and when she gets him she also gets a mansion. Now I have had people tell me that these really were important novels because they showed how insecure life was for a woman in early 19th century England. Perhaps, but an Austen heroine seems most often to end up with a handsome dude and a very large mansion. She has beaten the odds and has fallen into wealth. And along the way she has not vanquished evil or won any sort of victory for humankind. She certainly has not helped other woman like herself. She has just claimed one handsome dude and claimed one mansion, hurting the odds for all other women in the same position.
You also see the Disney princess story showing up in films like PRETTY WOMAN where the pretty prostitute ends up being courted by the rich, handsome Richard Gere type. That really is a reframing of Cinderella. This really has its downside. In Eastern Europe a lot of women were convinced by the film that the success route to a romantic happy ending was via the detour of becoming a prostitute. This was not a good thing.
In any case, I think we need to have better heroes for little girls these days. [-mrl]
Norman Rockwell Museum (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
On our recent trip to western Massachusetts, we visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. This is a fairly small museum; although Rockwell painted thousands of pictures, most are held by other people or organizations.
Rockwell started out on "Boys Life", but is primarily known for his "Saturday Evening Post" covers. These focus on small town life, home, and family. Even his scenes set in the big city look like small towns. This, combined (I suspect) with restrictions from the "Saturday Evening Post" based on not offending their readership, resulted in an almost complete lack of diversity. There is a black stable boy (03/17/34 cover), an American Indian (04/23/38), a black as a redcap in a train station (12/23/44), and a black waiter (12/07/46). That is the total extent of non-whites on the Post covers. Even crowd scenes of people waiting for a train are all white. It is not just the Post covers; the "Four Freedoms" have all-white casts, even the one illustrating freedom of religion (though that at least has ethnic diversity). (In fact, the most important paintings Rockwell did are probably the "Four Freedoms", which were used in a War Bond effort that sold $132,000,000 worth.)
What gets overlooked is that Rockwell's work after he left the Post changed. "The Golden Rule" is certainly a picture of diversity. He did civil rights paintings for "Look" magazine in the 1960s. And he did work for movies, and also in the commercial art field (for Upjohn, Coca-Cola, and others). But he never lost the reputation achieved over four decades at the Post, and much of his commercial work followed that style. (It is also true that in terms of social awareness, a painting done late in his career was labeled "Our Indian House Boy", when it portrayed a man at least seventy years old.)
While the museum had only a small percentage of Rockwell's paintings, the downstairs gallery has a display of all the "Saturday Evening Post" covers he had done. A few notable Post covers were:
The March 1, 1941, cover shows a definite Magritte influence.
The April 3, 1943; March 31, 1945; and April 3, 1948 issues were April Fool's Day issues. These have "puzzle" pictures, the sort of thing you'd see in a magazine with "Find 27 things wrong with this picture." The coves have things like a cat with a raccoon tail, or a clock with a backwards face.
The May 26, 1945, cover was "Hasten the Homecoming", which had previously been used as a poster for War Bonds. It is probably best known to the post-World-War-II generation from its use in the film BROADCAST NEWS.
There was also a temporary exhibit, "Ice Age to the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios". Yes, it is about art, but other than that it has nothing to do with Norman Rockwell that I could see. I can only guess it was there in an attempt to get younger people to come to the museum, or at least to find something interesting when their parents drag them there. This included computers that let you do some CGI character design, and a room running all the "Scrat" cartoons. (One docent describing the Rockwell paintings was hard to hear because of the sound of the cartoons.) [-ecl]
FEED by Mira Grant (copyright 2010, Orbit, 571pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50056-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I continue to be surprised by this year's crop of Hugo nominees. Of course, I've reviewed both CRYOBURN and BLACKOUT before the nominations were out and generally liked them, although they both had problems. Then THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS surprised me, as I typically don't care all that much for fantasy. Now FEED comes along and turns out to be an entertaining zombie novel.
Or is it a zombie novel? Well, yes it is--it has zombies, and they are the bad guys. So, sure it is. But I think it's more than that.
It's the second decade of the 21 century. A combination of a cure for cancer and the common cold is accidentally (well, maybe not accidentally, but that's another story) released into the atmosphere, infecting people with what's known as the Kellis-Amberlee virus. *Everyone* is infected. The virus sits dormant until one of two things happens: the person dies, at which point that person becomes a zombie, or a person is bitten by a zombie, at which point the person that was bitten becomes a zombie. The country is changed forever. Areas are given ratings that indicate how dangerous they are for non-zombies to enter or occupy. In order to enter these zones, a person has to have a license, typically attained by training and testing (what else, right?). Certain areas have been abandoned--Alaska, for example, because it was too big to clean up of zombies.
And bloggers are now big time news reporters. Hence our story.
Shaun and Georgia Mason, along with a third blogger who goes by the name of Buffy (with a nice little nod to Joss Whedon's program) apply to cover one of the big presidential candidates in the upcoming 2040 presidential election. They get the job and are assigned to travel all over the country with Senator Peter Ryman to follow and report on his campaign as objectively as possible. The name of the game for the bloggers, whose blog is called "After the End Times", is to get as high a rating as possible while still telling the truth.
There's a lot of background here. There appear to be three kinds of bloggers: Newsies, Irwins, and Fictionals. Shaun's the Irwin--he likes to take crazy and dangerous chances, all in the name of the story. These chances typically involve him getting up close and personal with "live" zombies. Georgia (or George), is a Newsie. She reports the facts as she sees them, and tries to put out a good, clean, honest product. Buffy is the Fictional, and she writes all sorts of poems and stories related to what they are covering. She is also the techie in the bunch. She knows their equipment inside and out, and does all the set up, teardown, and maintenance of the recording devices the bloggers use. And they use a *ton*.
The problem is that the poop hits the fan as zombies attack the campaign caravan in places where there shouldn't be any attacks. People are dying as a result, and as you might guess, these attacks are no accident. There's a bad guy here too, one of Ryman's opponents who withdraws from the campaign to become Ryman's running mate, the idea being that if both major ideologies are on the same ticket, said ticket is a shoo-in for the White House. Mayhem ensues.
This is Mira Grant's first novel. Then again, Mira Grant is really Seanan McGuire, so only sort of, and it is also the first book in a trilogy. And it's a good one. It's fast-paced, lots of stuff happens, and it doesn't try to bang you over the head with any kind of message. It's not complicated-- it's really an adventure story. Heck, I like all that stuff.
No, it's *not* what I would normally read. Here's the news bulletin that everyone already has read, probably several times: Most of the Hugo nominees over the last several years are not what I would normally read. But here's the odd twist: unlike THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, I plan on reading the next book in the series. *That's* something I wouldn't have thought I'd do, but I like this book that much.
So, is FEED a novel worthy of a Hugo? I don't think so. It's pretty good, and it has some faults (most books do), but when I think of Hugo-winning novels, I don't think of this one. It just doesn't match up to past winners. I have to say I do like it better than both CRYOBURN and THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, and the jury is still out on the Willis doorstop. So, while I so far have actually enjoyed all the nominees, I don't think any of the books that I've completed are Hugo quality.
Next up is ALL CLEAR, the conclusion of the story started in BLACKOUT by Connie Willis. I took it along on my trip to Colorado because I knew I would have time to read it on the airplane and thus maybe make a dent in it. Hopefully the story will get better with part 2. [-jak]
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Woody Allen has returned to writing light and fun comedy for this whimsical fantasy of Paris past. Gil, a talented writer, is soon to marry a beautiful woman from a rich family. Visiting France with his fiancée's parents, he dreams of Paris of the 1920s with some of history's greatest artists. Woody Allen has made many films since his excellent CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, most of which are at best only partially successful. This is his most satisfying film in decades, a film with wit and ideas that is primarily about romanticism, illusion, and nostalgia. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler-free: I have tried to avoid spoilers, though telling the main premise of the film is itself a spoiler.
Woody Allen is a comic turned writer and filmmaker. As a writer his forte was a sort of tall tale written with an intellectual setting and titles like "The Whore of Mensa". Eventually he proved to be a major talent as a filmmaker for a streak of films. That streak culminated with CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989). Since that film he has flailed about, making many rather minor films. Most people I talk to say he did two or three good films in that time, but there is no strong consensus on just which films those are. I rather liked his BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1984), a tall tale of a Broadway actor so bad that a gangland-related play producer has him murdered. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is another tall tale, this one with a both literary and sci-fi touch. This one could almost be an episode of "The Twilight Zone", but with the sophisticated humor of Woody Allen.
The film opens with an extended photo-essay of the beauty of Paris filmed by Darius Khondji. It is important for the story for the viewer to be convinced that Paris is the most beautiful and romantic city in the world. And Woody Allen has a knack for romanticizing settings in big cities that is convincing. One might almost believe for the course of this film that he loves Paris now more than his beloved Manhattan.
Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter, but he is also an aspiring and talented novelist. He has more talent than taste, apparently, since he is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), a beautiful but spoiled and selfish daughter of a nouveau riche Tea Party member. Gil's liberal viewpoint brings him to clash with his soon-to-be father-in-law. Gil is fascinated by the vanished world of Paris of the 1920s, which was a magnet for international luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is nostalgic for this Paris that he knows but he never really saw, and the materialistic Inez does not understand his attraction. But the disagreement may be coming to a crisis as Gil is thinking of throwing over his wealthy lifestyle built on studio money and coming to Paris to write novels like his literary heroes did.
This is the basis for a fantasy that Allen mines for some of his best humor in years. He has assembled a good cast of supporting characters including Michael Sheen who seems to have been tempted away from playing Tony Blair. Particularly fun are Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Kathy Bates, and especially Adrien Brody.
Woody Allen has given us a constantly engaging fantasy, light and funny. It is as if he has reached into the past and pulled out the writer he was in his younger days. Young Woody Allen, it is great to see you again. Rating +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/midnight_in_paris/
Tuna, International Space Development Conference, SUPER 8, GREEN LANTERN, THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009, and Birthers (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's comments on tuna fish in the 05/27/11 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
Mark's commentary on tuna fish made me wonder if he's bucking for Andy Rooney's old spot on "60 Minutes"--or maybe Emily Litella on "Saturday Night Live"... [-tw]
Mark replies, "I have never seen Emily Litella. Andy Rooney would not be a bad role model." [-mrl]
In response to Dale Skran's ISDC report in the 06/10/11 issue, Taras writes:
One error in Dale Skran's interesting ISDC 2011 report: the name of the NASA bigwig (and SF fan) is Jesco von Puttkamer, not Puttakmer.
Privatizing manned space travel sounds like a good idea, but I'm uneasy about giving up existing launch vehicles in favor of things that don't exist yet. We may be buying a pig in a poke. [-tw]
In response to Mark's review of SUPER 8 in the 06/17/11 issue, Taras writes:
J. J. Abrams's screenplay to SUPER 8 seemed slapdash to me. A man derails a military train (designed to carry nuclear weapons?!) by running a small pickup head-on into it. And the pickup driver is not even very seriously injured.
Sometimes sloppy filmmakers hope the audience doesn't notice something. For example, in RAGTIME (1981), Coalhouse Walker murders several policemen with a bomb. But we're supposed to sympathize with him, so the policemen are very, very far away and very, very small when they are killed. In SUPER 8, we're supposed to sympathize with the driver of the pickup, so we have this wildly spectacular train wreck in which absolutely no one is hurt or killed, as far as we can see (though the kids are clearly put at risk).
In a richly absurd scene, the sympathetic pickup driver is being questioned in his hospital bed by members of the U.S. military. He is slow to answer their questions, so they--kill him by injecting poison into his IV. Terrific interrogation technique, guys!
Mark replies, "The film is a mismatched set of some things that are good and some not so good. You do bring up some good points. But I interpreted the scene that they had gotten all that the interrogators could get from the man and were just silencing him. Poison IV? Isn't that what I have growing in my back yard. [-mrl]
In another absurd scene, the town Deputy Sheriff does not hesitate to assault several soldiers to escape from military custody, as if he were an OSS agent in occupied France.
Which raises another issue. Mark writes, "It is just the sort of film that Spielberg might have made around 1979." Would he, really? In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, set in the 1930s, the villains are Nazis, who are evil, evil, evil so that anything you do to them is okay. But in a movie set in 1979, would he have dared to treat American soldiers as his cardboard Nazis, who murder a helpless man tied to a hospital bed? ("Adolf Hitler, Jimmy Carter, what's the difference?")
It's significant, and tells you something about the ideological divide in America today, that it didn't occur to Abrams that treating American soldiers as the equivalent of Nazis might offend some Americans, of a more patriotic persuasion than he. [-tw]
In response to Dale Skran's review of GREEN LANTERN in the 06/24/11 issue, Taras writes:
About GREEN LANTERN, the movie and the comic book: just 3600 members of the Green Lantern corps to watch over the entire Universe? Check my arithmetic, but that sounds like about 100 million galaxies apiece. Hal Jordan won't be rescuing too many cats in trees, or ladies in distress. Then again, in comic books the Universe often seems to be about the size of Connecticut. [-tw]
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 in the 07/01/11 issue, Taras writes:
The problem with THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 is that the information goes out of date pretty fast.
I read part of the Wendell Berry essay on "Faustian Economics", enough to make me curious about the author. Here you have an essay on energy economics written by someone who seems ignorant of the subject. Turns out Berry is a 77-year-old poet and "man of letters" rather than an expert.
According to a recent article in "Scientific American", a huge wave of fossil fuels is about to hit, destroying the premise of Berry's lengthy essay--but perhaps this was less well-known three years ago. (Something I didn't know: when an oil field "runs dry", it still contains two-thirds of the oil it ever did. Technologies to tap into that are constantly improving.)
The "Wired" article about reassembling torn-up Stasi documents reminded me of Vernor Vinge's RAINBOW'S END, which features the (preposterous) notion that libraries will be intentionally shredded and computer-scanned. One passage in the article made me smile. It seems that the computer scientist who developed the reassembly software "came to West Berlin's Technical University in 1974 to study engineering... A Christian, he felt out of place on a campus still full of leftist radicals praising East German communism and cursing the US."
The "National Geographic" article on Neanderthals shows its age (October 2008). It's missing all the recent DNA findings about non-Africans having Neanderthal ancestry, and Melanesians, ancestry from Denisovans, hitherto-unknown cousins of the Neanderthals. It's hard to know how much of what is in the article is still to be trusted. [-tw]
And on a new topic, Taras writes:
About Obama's handling of the birth certificate "controversy", I thought he was being clever, letting it go on as long as it made some of his critics look silly, and then putting the kibosh on it as soon as Donald Trump's celebrity began to inflate it into a real issue. (However, Karl Rove has said that, in real life, White House staff are too busy just keeping their heads above water, so anything that looks like a clever plot is just sheer luck.)
Before that, I heard Rush Limbaugh try to throw cold water on the thing. (I got the impression this happened several times a week, but I don't listen to Rush that often.) While he would find it vastly amusing if Obama were shown to be Constitutionally unqualified to be President, he explained, it was not in the cards. To which the caller replied that, if Trump thought it was important, there must be something there.
Around the same time, I saw Trump on the Bill O'Reilly show. O'Reilly displayed Obama's birth announcement in a Honolulu newspaper. Trump mumbled something about "they're able to fake anything these days."
Of course, the Obama myths pale next to George Bush's. His IQ of 95 (125 according to his military entrance exam). The "stolen" 2000 election (which a later recount showed he would have won anyway). The (forged) Air National Guard letter accusing him of shirking his duty. Lying us into the Iraq War (Sens. Kerry and Clinton said the same things, conventional wisdom at the time). And, of course, the "truthers" still accuse him of leading a vast conspiracy to fake the 9/11 attacks (for which Osama bin Laden repeatedly took credit).
Thank you for another great bunch of issues! [-tw]
Mark responds, "Issues of the VOID or political issues?" [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Once again, I sally forth to do battle with this year's Hugo nominees for short fiction. Why "battle"? Because while they are all available, several of them are available (to me) only in electronic form, which is *not* my preferred medium. My palmtop is okay for the short stories, but not for the novelette and novella lengths, and reading them on my desktop is just not comfortable. (And, no, I don't feel like printing out the stories.) It used to be that most of the stories were available in the major magazines (ANALOG, ASIMOV'S, and F&SF) and I either had or could get those. But now several are from webzines that have no hard-copy form and there is no other choice.
On the other hand, the electronic availability of the stories means that more of the voters can actually read the stories and vote on them.
Anyway, here goes.
I previously reviewed THE LIFECYCLE OF SOFTWARE OBJECTS by Ted Chiang (published in book form), saying: Having said how uninterested I was in the adventures of the protagonists in the virtual reality world in Greg Egan's ZENDEGI, I find it ironic (or something) that I enjoyed THE LIFECYCLE OF SOFTWARE OBJECTS by Ted Chiang, which is almost entirely about adventures of the protagonists in a V.R. world. Maybe it is because Chiang focuses more on the interactions of characters in our world with the constructs, while Egan spends too much time in the detailed construction of virtual reality scenarios.
"The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon" by Elizabeth Hand (in the anthology STORIES edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio) is a sentimental secret history of aviation sort of story. There's a fragment of a nitrate film showing some unknown flying machine, and all sorts of nostalgia for the early days of flight. Eh.
If you didn't know that "The Sultan of the Clouds" was written by Geoffrey A. Landis (in ASIMOV'S 09/10) you might guess Charles Stross from the subject matter. It is a story very much based on economics and social class (as determined by wealth and commercial power), with some odd fantasy tropes on the marital arrangements. There is also a hard science element, making it a very motley story indeed. But it all works somehow. Is it Hugo-level? That's hard to say, but it is better than most of its competition.
"Troika" by Alastair Reynolds (published in the anthology GODLIKE MACHINES) is about an alien artifact that appears in a comet-like orbit around our sun. Three attempts are made to investigate, but it is so alien that even trying to study it causes unexpected problems. Reynolds has his characters all part of the Russian space program because in the future they are the main presence in space. There are echoes of Clarke's Rama in this, but while in some sense it goes beyond Rama, it is also less satisfying.
"The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window", Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010) is "fantasy with an agenda." The narrator is from a society in which women rule, and men are "worms", and more along that vein, and a lot of the story reinforces the validity of all this. It is true that eventually there is some question about whether this is good, but my feeling is that Swirsky ultimately says that it is, or rather that the alternative is bad. Combine that for my general disinterest in high fantasy, and you have a story that does very little for me.
My voting order is: "The Lifecycle of Software Objects", "The Sultan of the Clouds", "Troika", (no award), "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window", "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon"
Next week I will cover the novelettes and short stories (assuming I finish them all). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. -- Albert Einstein
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