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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/26/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 9, Whole Number 1664
Table of Contents
Jimmy Sangster, R.I.P.:
One of the great forces behind the Hammer Horror movement of the late 1950s and 1960s was Jimmy Sangster. Frequently he was a writer, including of some of Hammer's best films, but was also at times a producer and director. Sangster died August 19 at the age of 83.
Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention, has announced the 2011 Hugo Award winners.
BEST NOVEL: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis BEST NOVELLA: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang BEST NOVELETTE: "The Emperor of Mars" by Allen M. Steele BEST SHORT STORY: "For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal BEST RELATED WORK: Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea BEST GRAPHIC STORY: Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM: Inception BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM: Doctor Who: "The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang" BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM: Sheila Williams BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM: Lou Anders BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST: Shaun Tan BEST SEMIPROZINE: Clarkesworld BEST FANZINE: The Drink Tank BEST FAN WRITER: Claire Brialey BEST FAN ARTIST: Brad W. Foster JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER: Lev Grossman
Excerpt from "Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil Travelog" (Part 2) (by Mark R. Leeper):
[Steven Silver asked me to write a travel log to a place that existed only in science fiction or fantasy for his fanzine ARGENTUS. I thought this might be fun.]
Okay, it is now almost 9PM. We are back at Roxton Camp. So what was it like?
The guy who runs the cable car came over to us and told us to go ahead to the cable structure. A car takes four people and we can split up any way we want over two cars. The two Toms come with Evelyn and me. Ellen and Jim got the other car to themselves. We got in. We talked and watched the ground drop away under us. I suppose I am a little afraid of heights. Particularly when you just have that cable holding you up and the ground is so far beneath. If you fall you just hit the side of the plateau a long way down. We talked to the Toms about Broadway plays of all things. Here we are in Brazil about to see dinosaurs and we are talking about Peter Schaffer and Bob Fosse and The Phantom of the Opera.
It seemed like a long time we were going up, but it probably wasn't more than 25 minutes. As long as we were talking I could keep my mind off of how high we really were. When the wind came up the car swung a little and I could feel it in my stomach. Anyway we got to the top. There are three men up at the top. If there were more I didn't see them. All of the people running the lift were Brazilian. I mean Portuguese-Brazilian. I was expecting to see some of the aborigines still working in this area, but I have seen none. I think all of them, or what is left of them, are in Rio. Maybe we will see some when we get there. We get there in about eight days.
We had to wait around at the top for about 15 minutes before the guide could take us around. While we waited I talked to Tom Harris about where we had seen and where the two Toms had been. They said we would like Italy when we get there. I told them we are going to wait until we are old and tired before we see too many places with plumbing. Actually we are getting old and tired already.
The guide came to take us around. Some guide. She looked to be 18. Maybe 19. But she spoke English. A sort of English, I guess. We were going to walk around on the path and see dinosaurs. We were supposed to stay on the path. We were not supposed to keep an eye on the jungle because some things do come out. I wish. She was selling caramel corn, of all things. Before we set out she wanted to know if any of us wanted to buy some. Somehow selling caramel corn seems a little strange when you are in dinosaur territory. It smelled good, or maybe a little cloying, but it was not what we would have wanted.
We followed the path and our first stop was the pterodactyl rookery. We saw it at a distance ahead. It looked almost like a tent made of chain-link fence. There was a sort of double door we went through to get inside. The smell was overpowering and had been since we could first see the rookery. I don't know if that is the smell of the animals themselves or excreta, but it really smelled bad. The biggest pterodactyls were pretty big. Maybe it was as big as a man and a wingspan maybe three times as long as a man. They didn't look very happy. The wings had slits cut in them, which must be a lot like clipping a bird's wings. There were smaller ones and several chicks. I would have expected the young ones to be a little cuter. I guess they are a little too thin and boney to be cute. They seemed a bit lethargic. I suppose they could have been drugged. To me they just looked depressed. One does not ask a pterodactyl why the long face? They are just born with long faces.
We left by the same double doors we came in by. Next on the tour was a microsoftus. Or is it two microsofti? (microsoftuses?) I was anxious to see this since it was one of the rarer and lessor known dinosaurs in Maple White Plateau. It was in a caged area with grass and they had walls around him. I guess he couldn't come out. This was one of the reasons we were supposed to watch the jungle. This little fellow wasn't known until maybe six years ago. Nobody had ever found fossils of them. I don't even know if they had found theropods this small. (A theropod walks on two legs like a tyrannosaurus.) He is a greenish color so he blended in with the jungle leaves and he was somewhat shy of people. They eat mostly insects and rodents our guide told us. He has like six boney fins coming out of his face. There are two rows of three going from the eyebrows to the snout. The nature programs show them very active, but these two animals sort of stood around dazed. These dinosaurs are all warm-blooded animals, so they should be active. We have tapes of them in the wild showing they are active. But these microsofti in the zoo mostly just stand around.
The pen with the apatosaurus was equally discouraging. At least here I could see and understand why. Hadn't noticed on the dinosaurs previously but this one actually was hobbled. There were manacles chaining the front legs together. The disposition seems to be mild enough, but they are taking no chances that this thing is going to walk out on them. I think they do more than that. I think they drug them. Certainly the dinosaurs seemed to take very little interest in the people coming by. The films I had seen did not show them being so sedentary. It probably has something to do with their captivity.
The last we saw was the tyrannosaurus. I think this is their big attraction and they have only the one. Here too it did not move as I was expecting. It just sort of stood around. Thank goodness. Those teeth were as long as water glasses. He (she?) I could see had a manacle around his foot and a chain that acted like a tether. There was dried blood on the metal band. He looked kind of glassy-eyed. Each of the animals had a different smell and each was smelled disgusting it its own way. The pen needed a cleaning. The skin looks almost like army camouflage. It is green and brown. I guess it serves about the same purpose. If you looked at the head there was like a cloud of some small flying insect. The dinosaur didn't seem to notice. If it didn't blink its eyes every minute or so and breathe you would not have known it wasn't mechanical. He just seemed to be waiting or bored.
I wish they had some way for us to go into the jungle and see the dinosaurs that are not captive. That is probably too dangerous. They probably stay away from this end of the plateau anyway. They are a little shy of anything people do. This zoo is kind of a pitiful way of seeing these dinosaurs in captivity. These things were the Lords of the Earth. As big and as powerful as they look, they sort of evoke pity. Somehow this was not the emotion I was expecting from this part of the trip.
It was now about 3:50 and we had to start heading back. I think we were all kind of hungry, but caramel corn, which was all they had for sale, was not what we were in the mood for. The cable cars took the same 25 minutes to get down. Evelyn and I were in the lead car and Jim and Ellen and the two Toms were in the other. Okay, so we had seen dinosaurs now with our own eyes. Somehow I felt a little ashamed.
Gil had packed some sandwiches in the jeeps. The same meat that we had for lunch yesterday. The grease had soaked into the bread. There were some bottles of warm Coke. The Coke was more welcome after standing around in the heat with only our canteens. The bottles were not easy to drink from as we went over those rocky, bumpy roads. The trip back might have been a little faster. We were going downhill more of the way. I think traveling a path you have already traveled just make it seem shorter. We got back to Roxton Camp about 6:30. We got washed up and the Indians laid a table for us. Roast chicken for dinner. Gil didn't even join us for dinner. I think he has his own food packed and frequently opts for that. Back at the tent we packed most of our stuff so we could get an early start in the morning. Evelyn read and I worked on my log. I still feel kind of down. [-mrl]
THE DERVISH HOUSE by Ian McDonald (copyright 2010, Pyr, $26.00, 359pp, ISBN 978-1-61614-204-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
As I write this review, the Hugo Awards ceremony at Renovation is tonight. So, why am I finally writing the review of the last of the Hugo nominated novels on my list long after the voting deadline is past? Well, truthfully, life got in the way in the last few weeks. I did just finish the book, so it is fresh in my head for this review. But still, I left THE DERVISH HOUSE for last because of my previous feelings about novels. I kind of figured it would take me a long time to finish it (not this long, but there you go), so I wasn't too worried if I hadn't read enough of it to include it on my Hugo ballot.
So, our story takes place in Istanbul in the year 2027. Turkey is now part of the European Union. It's overcrowded, hot, sweaty, poor, diverse. It's a mix of new high technology and old religion and mysticism. The story takes place over five days of one of the nastiest heat waves in the history of Turkey. It follows the stories of 6 different people in the span of those 5 days, by the end, most of those storylines converge - whether to a satisfying conclusion or not is still up for debate.
Our cast of characters: Can is a nine-year-old boy who has a heart condition where any sudden sound can kill him; Necdet is a slacker and a waste of a human being. He witnesses an explosion on a train and all of a sudden he sees djinn--lots of them--and that's just the tip of the iceberg; Leyla is a recent graduate with a marketing background who is trying to save a family start-up company--a company that has a revolutionary new product (hold that thought, folks)--in a very short period of time; Georgios is a retired economist who is asked to get involved with a security think-tank group but knows more about a lot of things than he has let on, especially some stuff that Can has gotten involved in; Adnan is a stock market trader (of a sorts) who sets up an elaborate scheme to smuggle natural gas that will net him a fortune; and Ayse is an art dealer who specializes in rare antiquities who gets caught up in something she wasn't expecting.
So, what's the unifying theme here, the catch, the thing that links it all together? Nanotechnology. You see, the explosion on the train, which at first looked like a suicide, was more than that. The reader is supposed to believe that what ties everything together is the dervish house in which some of our characters reside, but I think in reality it's the nanotechnology. All these characters and the multiple storylines converge into what is supposed to be a thriller of an ending, but for me it fell flat. Oh, there's a great deal of religious mysticism, economics, nanotechnology, and politics involved, but when it all came together at the end, my reaction was "so what?"
So, first let's talk about rating this against the other two McDonald nominees, that I've read, RIVER OF GODS and BRASYL. It's the best of the three--it's actually not a horrible book. It's certainly much better than BRASYL, which you all know I hated with a passion. It's just not an interesting book. More on that in a bit.
Second, as stacked up against the rest of the nominees, I'd put it near the bottom again, simply because I liked it the least. Again, this is not a book that I would call Hugo quality, but that's a matter of taste more than anything else.
So, what really bugged me about this book? First, that nanotechnological product that the family business was trying to sell? It would turn all the cells (or DNA or whatever, it doesn't much matter) in the human body into miniature computer memory stores. A human could store and recall all his/her memories, and oh by the way a human could store other people's memories too. You could, essentially, experience someone else's life. So, why does that bother me? Because *he doesn't follow through with it*. There's a potentially brilliant story using that as the central idea, but McDonald doesn't follow it. He did the same kind of thing in BRASYL. I'd swear that McDonald has an aversion to writing stories with terrific central ideas. He throws something out there for the reader, then pulls it back.
Second is the concept of the Mellified Man. Wikipedia describes it this way:
Mellified man, or human mummy confection, was a legendary medicinal substance created by steeping a human cadaver in honey.
McDonald includes one in the novel, and even describes how one comes to be, but then doesn't do a whole lot with it. You would be right if you guessed that it's part of Ayse's story, but it seemed to me like something that was included to take up space. I didn't see the need for it.
Recently, John Scalzi wrote an article where he talked about the potential of movies being made out of this year's Hugo nominated novels, and he basically states that he's not sure of the appeal of THE DERVISH HOUSE in the United States because it's not set in the United States and doesn't have any American characters (that's a rough approximation of what he said). I think that may extend to why I don't like McDonald's books--the exotic locations don't bother me too much, but I cannot possibly identify or like any of the characters. His last three Hugo-nominated novels have that motif, and I just didn't like them.
Your mileage may vary.
I'm taking a bit of a break, as I always do after the Hugo period. I'll be back in the fall.
[-jak] [Of course, Scalzi's reasoning is not iron-clad: DISTRICT 9 was not set in the United States, had no American characters, and did pretty well. -ecl]
Reversibility (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Evelyn's comments on JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN in the 08/12/11 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
The discussion of reversibility in the latest MT VOID brought to my mind the following little verse by a well-known nuclear physicist, which I first read in a collection called A RANDOM WALK IN SCIENCE:
The Perils of Modern Living (by Harold P. Furth, originally published in 1956):
Well up above the tropostrata There is a region stark and stellar Where, on a streak of anti-matter Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller. Remote from Fusion's origin, He lived unguessed and unawares With all his anti-kith and -kin, And kept macassars on his chairs. One morning, idling by the sea, He spied a tin of monstrous girth That bore three letters: AEC. Out stepped a visitor from Earth. Then, shouting gladly o'er the sands, Met two who in their alien ways Were like as lentils. Their right hands Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (letter of comment by Art Stadlin):
In response to Mark's review of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in the 08/19/11 issue of the MT VOID, Art Stadlin writes:
You give a fair (as in fair, balanced, honest) review of the film. Thank you. The pre-opening hype around the special effects is what brought me out to our local movie house on opening weekend. And surprise! These special effects are so good I quickly forgot about them. As you said, they may have over-done the facial expressions that are possible with these effects. On the other hand, emotions seemed to be central to the success of this movie, including emotions evident in facial expressions.
[And nobody says that emotions have to be realistically portrayed. It may be more important for the story that they are communicated. --mrl]
Like a lot of films, if the quality of the photography, the story, and the acting is high, it is easy to get completely immersed in the movie. I think that happened to me on RISE. If you have a soft spot for Alzheimer victims, or a soft spot for cute little apes, beware. This movie will pull at your heart strings.
This movie, like most successful movies these days, has something for everyone. Like car chase scenes? Got it. Like crash scenes? Got it. Like blood and guts? Got it. Like a good fist fight? Got it. Like to see injustice vanquished? Got it. And so forth. As you said, the plot has no real twists, no surprises, and no deep social message. So how is "RISE" different than The Titanic in this regard? Within the overall story are deeper stories, with emotional depth, that really make these films work.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One of the books chosen for discussion at the Worldcon this year was THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (ISBN 978-0-31612- 540-6, although my copy is the 1966 first printing of the Scholastic Book Services edition--and looks it!). I read this ages ago (around 1960, if you must know), in a hardback edition checked out from the Rantoul, Illinois, public library, and I do not think I have read it since. How, when, and why I acquired this copy, I have no idea.
"It was a different time." That phrase shows up a lot, usually to explain why the incorrect attitudes of people in the past did not make them bad people. (One hears it repeatedly, for ironic effect, in the 2003 short alternate history film "The Negro Space Program".) Well, when one reads of an ad placed by an older man looking for "a boy, or two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven," and that parents would not be alarmed at such a thing, one can only conclude, "It was a different time."
Cameron tries to follow science, saying that it seems impossible that such a small moon as Basidium-X could have an atmosphere, and what a spectroscope is. But she gets a couple of things wrong. She has David talk about the "frozen, dark side [of the moon] nobody else has ever seen"--but the *far* side of the moon is not frozen or dark all the time. (Okay, maybe it is David who is confused, but that is just a rationalization for presenting incorrect science.)
Cameron refers to "mushrooms and other peculiar plants"; now we say that mushrooms are not plants at all. But that is reasonable, because in 1954, we said that mushrooms were plants. Now we define plants as life forms with chlorophyll, hence mushrooms are not plants, but fungi (a separate kingdom). It is an example, though, of how science fiction can become dated.
There is also a problem with David's conclusion about why the flight is noiseless. He thinks it is because they have broken the sound barrier (first done by humans just seven years before the book was written), but does not wonder why they can still hear the oxygen urn whistling. And the explanation of what escape velocity means is not quite right. They do not have to travel at escape velocity to escape the Earth; that applies only to ballistic rockets--those that have only a single blast to impart velocity to them, such as being fired from a cannon.
Is "tritetramethylbenzacarbonethylene" a reasonable name, or just chemical verbal fruit cocktail? And Cameron has David ask whether he will ever be a "space man", leading me to wonder about "space man" versus "spaceman".
Chuck has brown skin and dark hair, making me originally think he was possibly African-American, but since his grandfather had "snapping blue eyes [and] pink cheeks which were red-veined from all the storms he'd been in", and Chuck's face could turn "quite red with embarrassment", this seems unlikely. (An interracial marriage in the 1910s to 1940s is not an explanation to be accepted.) No, Chuck just has a tan.
The boys at one point walk on a very narrow path, "with their backs to the steep, damp cliff and their faces turned outward." But surely one would traverse this facing *into* the cliff?
Cameron also tries to add some poetry to the book (in the style sense, not in the rhyming verse sense): "In the dim light of early morning the roaring tide had come in, clawing and reaching with its strong gray fingers." And: "Now Mrs. Topman came and put out a finger to touch the great, satiny stones--each of a different hue: cobalt, verdigris, saffron, carnelian, vermilion, emerald, ultramarine, Tyrian purple, viridian--pulsing with color so deep that you could not take your eyes from the swaying, almost living thing in David's hands." I have to admit to be out of touch with current children's books; do they read like this now? (The latter does sound like Cameron grabbed a handful of crayons out of one of the larger Crayola assortments. Then again, I don't know if Crayola even makes these any more--so much has changed.)
Oddly enough, though throughout the book there was an emphasis on the idea that the boys would do all the building and traveling, without any adult help, when the time comes to form the Young Astronomers and Students of Space Travel, Mr. Bass insists that an adult shall be elected President. There is something strange, indeed, about an era when it seems fine to have two young boys travel around space on their own, but when they form a club, they have to have an adult leader.
I have no idea what is meant by "Drawings adapted from the original illustrations by Robert Henneberger". It is possible, I suppose, that the original hardback edition had more elaborate illustrations that Scholastic Books could not afford to reproduce. (One site said that the latest editions have no illustrations.) For people who want more, there are several sequels: STOWAWAY TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET, MR. BASS'S PLANETOID, A MYSTERY FOR MR. BASS, JEWELS FROM THE MOON AND THE METEOR THAT COULDN'T STAY, and TIME AND MR. BASS. Only the first is widely available. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking. --Clement AtleeTweet
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