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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/02/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 10, Whole Number 1665
Table of Contents
Excuses, Excuses (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If this issue appears rough, it was composed while we were on vacation and when we got home created in harsher than usual circumstances. We have had to publish without using our home environment. Our part of New Jersey was lambasted by Hurricane Irene. As of this writing we are in our fourth day without power. If I felt powerless in the recent debt ceiling bruhaha, I feel even more so today. [-mrl]
Tweeting the VOID (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The HTML versions of the MT VOID on our web site (http://leepers.us) now have buttons which let you tweet them if the urge strikes you. Whoopee. [-ecl]
September 8 (Thu): THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film September 22 (Thu): THE HACKER AND THE ANTS by Rudy Rucker, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 13 (Thu): "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at **5PM**, discussion after film October 20 (Thu): TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 10 (Thu): QUATERMASS AND THE PIT by Nigel Kneale, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at **5PM**, discussion after film November 17 (Thu): TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
A Hurrican Is *Not* an Ill Wind (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I follow the dust and dander reports since I have newly discovered allergies. The AccuWeather.com Dust & Dander report rates the amount of D&D on a scale of 1 to 10. But where I live it almost always is 9 or 10 and it has not been 9 for a long time. Now with Hurricane Irene headed our way this evening it rates today's level at a 10. Tomorrow for the first time I can remember the D&D level will drop to 1. The next days it will be 6, 9, and 10. The report has good news and bad news for me. The good news is D&D levels will be "Low: Indoor dust and dander levels will be low." Right under that it says, "Hurricane conditions." I guess it really is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. [-mrl]
Analogy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was walking in a department store and in the perfume aisle there was a picture of a certain celebrity holding a bottle of perfume. It occurred to me that seeing a photograph telling me that a woman is wearing a certain scent is a lot like trying to follow a ballet on the radio. [-mrl]
The Earth at One Billion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Longtime member, good friend, and general good guy Lee Beaumont has submitted to us a science fiction essay he wrote exploring the future as it would be if we could get our population down to one billion people. It also has a treasury of links to other interesting resources. (Pay particular attention to the Khan Academy stuff, which I find a very impressive project in our world.) The essay is at http://tinyurl.com/void-lee-billion. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for September (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is time for my monthly guide to what I think are the films worth watching on Turner Classic Movies. I am aware, of course, that some of the readers of this monthly feature do not get Turner. I suppose that it at least gives people an idea of films to look for in general even if they do not get TCM. I know I am always open to film recommendations. Most of the films I recommend are available elsewhere.
I have what must be a twenty-year-old copy, pre-cable, of what I consider to be a solid thriller from Peter Weir. PBS ran it, but I have never seen it get a theatrical release in this country. THE PLUMBER was written and directed by Weir just about the time he was getting international attention for films like THE LAST WAVE, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, and THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS. It was made for Australian television and was seen only in small releases outside of that country.
There is always a certain paranoid fear when we open our homes to repair people. In THE PLUMBER Jill and her husband Brian are cultural anthropologists who live refined lives in a stylish apartment complex. One day Max, the complex plumber, shows up telling them he has to fix their plumbing. Max is a working class handyman who is used to saying what is on his mind. Almost immediately there is quiet friction between Jill and Max. Then Max claims the task is going to be bigger and more complex than he thought. The job becomes what seems like a never-ending project. It may be that Max is making the job worse than it needs to be. Or maybe Jill is just being paranoid. Is this a real battle of wits or is the conflict entirely in Jill's mind? (Monday, September 5, 10:00 PM)
Some background knowledge is needed to appreciate the next film. I first became aware of the notorious cult of the Thuggee in India in Terence Fisher's 1959 film THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY made by Hammer Films as one of their historical action adventures. That film was loosely based, uncredited, on the novel THE DECEIVERS by John Masters. I was rather surprised to find that that film did not exaggerate. This was a cult that worshipped the goddess Kali. They probably murdered over a million travelers over centuries on the roads of India. They would join a caravan asking for protection from bandits. Then at night at a given signal they would whip out special cloths weighted with coins tied in a corner and strangle everyone in the caravan. They would divide up the riches and bury the bodies. Over a million travelers probably disappeared without trace over a course of centuries. In the early 1800s the British, astounded at the size and longevity of the super-secret conspiracy, hunted out and suppressed the Thuggee (who gave our language the word "thug").
In 1988 Ismael Merchant produced THE DECEIVERS, an adaptation of the Masters novel THE DECEIVERS. Rather than using his usual director, James Ivory, Merchant chose director Nicholas Meyer of THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, TIME AFTER TIME, and STAR TREK IV. Pierce Brosnan stars as Col. William Savage, who discovers the truth of the conspiracy in 1825 and goes under cover as a Thug to investigate the cult. This is a grand tradition swashbuckling historical adventure deemed politically incorrect in its time. (Friday, September 23, 10:00 PM)
Kirk Douglas was in a lot of distinguished films. His choice for his best is the semi-Western LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. Douglas plays Jack Burns a Westerner and loner of the style of the Old West who lives by only the laws he makes for himself and cannot stand the rules of the modern world. He tries to free a friend in jail and this gets him into trouble with the law. He is tracked down by a sheriff (Walter Matthau) who sympathizes with Burns but must has a duty to capture him. The sheriff is accompanied by a low IQ deputy (William Schallert). The script is by the great Dalton Trumbo. (Tuesday, September 27, 11:30 PM)
Also recommended and playing this month are the films THE CRIMSON PIRATE, DEAD OF NIGHT, and LAND OF THE PHARAOHS. [-mrl]
The Presumed Neutrality of Technology (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One of the panels I did *not* get to at the World Science Fiction Convention this year was "The Amish Approach to Changing Technology: The Error of Presumed Neutrality of Technology", whose description was "The Amish do use technology, but they reject the idea that technologies are value-free tools, and they acknowledge that they can change social order, so all technology must be evaluated before being allowed into the community. Would we be wise to adopt this cautious approach?"
I mean, it seems fairly obvious that one should evaluate all aspects of technology (or anything) before adopting it (assuming we can, of course). One imagines that the panel actually ended up discussing the unexpected side effects of various technologies-- perhaps a more interesting topic. [-ecl]
THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's review of THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET in the 08/26/11 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
You wrote, "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?"
If I were walking on that path, I'd be looking outward to make sure I didn't fall off the path. That would be a damn sight more painful than bumping into the cliff! [-fl]
I guess I figure I could "hug" the cliff face better if I was facing the cliff, but I will admit to not having much (any) experience in this area. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
HEAVENLY DATE AND OTHER FLIRTATIONS by Alexander McCall Smith (ISBN 978-0-965-90442-1) is a collection of short stories about dating from the author of the "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" and "44 Scotland Street" series. These are quite unlike those, being more serious attempts at straightforward (one might almost say literary) fiction. They're okay, but Alexander McCall Smith will, I believe, suffer the same fate as another "three-name" writer, Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle tried to distance himself from his Sherlock Holmes stories and thought he would be remembered for his historical novels. He was wrong. I don't know if that is what McCall Smith is trying to do, but clearly his legacy will be his series.
I listened to ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Jasper Fforde (read by Emily Gray) (ISBN 978-0-670-02252-6, audiobook ISBN 978-1- 449-85468-3) on audiobook, because the audiobook was available and the "dead tree" copy was checked out. On the one hand, I obviously skim less with an audiobook. On the other, I find my mind wanders more.
This is the sixth in the "Thursday Next" series (which began with THE EYRE AFFAIR). This takes a different point of view than the previous volumes. All of those were told from the point of view of Thursday, an agent for Verifiction responsible for preventing crimes against literature. No, not eBooks, but people going into the Book World and changing books there--eliminating Guildenstern from "Hamlet" or helping Mrs. Rochester escape from her locked room, for example. ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING is told from the point of view of "the written Thursday Next" (as she is called)--the character in the previous books who is the fictional version of the real Thursday Next in our world, or rather in a world in which Verifiction, the Book World, the continuing Crimean War, and the break-away Wales are all real.
However, in retrospect, one can say that every one of the books in the series changes its focus. The first (THE EYRE AFFAIR) has a fair amount about the continuing Crimean War and the break-away Wales, while also introducing Verifiction and the Prose Portal (into the Book World). The second (LOST IN A GOOD BOOK) got rid of a lot of the alternate history elements, and the third (THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS) barely mentioned them. The fourth (SOMETHING ROTTEN) has a definite Book World/real world focus, with Hamlet hiding out in England while the literary detectives try to prevent the hijacking of the play script. By the fifth (THURSDAY NEXT: FIRST AMONG SEQUELS) Fforde has become more subtle in many of his character names, and starts covering the mechanics of Book World. Also, he has a lot more topical references about the state of reading and books today, such as a bookstore with three coffeehouses (one with a branch of itself *inside* itself), and DVDs, stationary, gifts, and computer games, but a staff that has no idea what a book is.
In ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING, Fforde continues the topical references, adding eBooks to the list of threats to the Book World. The real Thursday Next has gone missing, and the written Thursday Next is called upon to impersonate her. Wrapped around all this are the details of life in the Book World: the geography, the social standing of various genres, what happens when a book is read, what happens when a book is *not* read, and so on. We also discover (slight spoiler) that the written characters are not identical to their "real-life" counterparts. (For example, a character killed off in a book may still be alive in the real world.) It is wonderful world-building, and I highly recommend it.
Just as Alexander McCall Smith began with his "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" and then branched out into a "44 Scotland Street" series and so on, Fforde also has another series, the "Nursery Rhyme" series. In both cases, I much prefer their first series.
(Note: Some people try to purchase all the books in a series they like in matching editions. I have managed to continue my tradition having no two books in this series matching. My copy of THE EYRE AFFAIR is a US Viking hardback, LOST IN A GOOD BOOK is a US Viking trade paperback, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS is a UK Penguin trade paperback, SOMETHING ROTTEN is a NEL trade paperback. and THURSDAY NEXT: FIRST AMONG SEQUELS is a US Penguin trade paperback. I suppose that while I had ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING downloaded on my iPod, that was yet a sixth format.)
THE WHOLE FIVE FEET: WHAT THE GREAT BOOKS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE, DEATH, AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING ELSE by Christopher R. Beha (ISBN 978-0-8021-4485-0) is about Beha's quest to read the "Harvard Classics" (a.k.a. the "Five-Foot Shelf") in a year. (Though he sometimes refers to these as the "Great Books", the Harvard Classics are distinct from the "Great Books of the Western World" produced by Britannica in the early 1950s.)
In an appendix, Beha talks about what he calls "A-Year-of-Riding- the-Unicycle" memoirs--memoirs of a year of doing some specified activity--of which I have read (and reviewed) several, including:
The "Great Books of the Western World" also have a book about them: A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME: THE RISE, FALL, AND CURIOUS AFTERLIFE OF THE GREAT BOOKS by Alex Beam (978-1-58648-487-3), which I previously reviewed. But Beam writes entirely about the concept, development, and marketing of the "Great Books of the Western World" rather than about the contents of them (other than the point size used, and the translations).
The "Harvard Classics" seems a better choice for people who are looking to avoid overlap with their existing books, since it relies more on shorter works (letters, essays, and so on) and less on book-length works. The "Great Books" includes six novels, the "Harvard Classics" only one (DON QUIXOTE). To make up for this, there was later published a "Harvard Classics of Fiction" which comprises twenty volumes of long and short fiction. But more than just omitting novels, the "Harvard Classics" will have a volume that includes plays by half a dozen dramatists, or essays by three different authors, while the "Great Books" seems to try to cover fewer authors but with more from each. The "Harvard Classics" also includes a few non-Western works ("The Thousand and One Nights", "The Sayings of Confucius", Buddhist writings, "The Bhagavad-Gita", and chapters from the Koran), though these hardly constitute broad exposure to non-Western literature.
One major drawback to the "Harvard Classics" might be the cost--I just saw a set in a used bookstore for $2450.
As alternatives to either, there is Clifton Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan". Fadiman gave you an annotated list, and assumed you knew where the libraries and bookstores were. For a much longer, but purely Western, curriculum, there is always Harold Bloom's THE WESTERN CANON. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. --Niels BohrTweet
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