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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/09/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 24, Whole Number 1679
Table of Contents
Hammer and Nail (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Yes, it is true that when all you have is a hammer everything looks to you like a nail. Is that such a bad thing? There is a genius to having a hammer and being clever enough to turn a wide range of problems into nails. Sometimes all we have are hammers. How would we ever know the full power of those hammers until we know what they can do for the widest possible range of nails? [-mrl]
Bradbury vs. Bradbury (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother." These are the last words of George Orwell's pessimistic prognostication of the future NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Another science fiction author also wrote his own dire prediction of the future, FAHRENHEIT 451. But in this case it was Ray Bradbury struggling with Ray Bradbury.
In that novel Bradbury predicted a future when books would no longer be published and when firemen would burn books so that people could not find more books to read. Bradbury loves books he loves the feel and texture of a book. He loves the smell of the pages and the tactile feel of the cover. Most of all he loves the multiplicity of voices that only a book can bring.
Independently he also loves walking through nature. Again there is the smell of the grass, the whisper of the blowing leaves, the feel of the bark of a tree. In 1951 he wrote a cautionary story he called "The Pedestrian". This story takes place in a United States of A.D. 2053. It is a time when all right-thinking citizens spend their evenings watching television. Bradbury tells the story of Leonard Mead who breaks from this behavior pattern and goes out for a little walk. A robot police car sees Leonard walking and decides this is psychotic behavior. He ends up being taken to a psychiatric center that will try to cure him of this urge to walk. The story is really a piece of paranoia. Bradbury is taking something that he loves and says what if the government were to take that away from people. What a terrible world it would be if we lost this right. Government? Bad!!! Right to walk? Good!!!! Of course there were no efforts by government to curtail walking. I have never heard of government ever making any moves in that direction. But the story was effective in 1951 and it really did not hurt anybody. It was just Bradbury's defense of the practice of walking just for pleasure.
Two years later the same idea was the basis of Ray Bradbury's novel FAHRENHEIT 451. He made a substitution. This time he was concerned about the right to read. He had lived through the 1930s when the German government censored books that did not agree with its viewpoint or were written by people of whom they did not approve. Bradbury took the idea of "The Pedestrian" and changed the right to walk to the right to read. The government in FAHRENHEIT 451 forbade writing and reading. Books were to be expunged in a huge act of bibliocide. And the public like the book and liked the message that the right to read has to be defended. Not too surprisingly, public libraries championed the book FAHRENHEIT 451. In the years that passed Bradbury has said that the book retains its relevance. And I suppose it has, but only some of it.
I like FAHRENHEIT 451, but my assessment of the danger is very different from Bradbury's. In the almost half-century since the book's publication the opponents of free literature have really been the underdogs (luckily). Literature has become less and less restrictive. Kids in school are reading kinds of material they never would have been allowed to read in the past. (I am speaking of course of science fiction.) In 1953 if someone wanted to read DAS KAPITAL it probably would not have been available in the United States for any cost. Today if I were of the frame of mind that I wanted a copy, I am pretty sure I could have it on my palmtop in thirty minutes at most. I would pay nothing for it (which admittedly is more than it is worth). I would not have a paper copy. I would not be able to smell the pages. (Ugh! What a concept.) But I could read the ideas. The content is easily available; the format is not. By any objective standards ideas are much more available than ever in the past. The problem the book is having is not with the government but with the readers.
I have heard recently that filmmakers are having a problem. Young viewers do not know superheroes from the comic books. They know them from the movies. Young people are just not reading any more, even comic books. The books Bradbury loved so much are dying for lack of interest. And over the past few years, books are not coming as bound paper, they are being read as non-book books. They are being read as e-books. Bradbury hates e-books. He loves the experience of opening a paper book. Until just recently he refused to allow his FAHRENHEIT 451 to be made into an e-book. This novel is an homage to the reading experience and he feels it is inappropriate to betray that experience and to let people read it electronically.
Now one can say that this point-of-view is perfectly consistent with the point-of-view of the book. But it places Bradbury in a peculiar position. People want to read his book on e-readers. And the book that they would be reading would be word-for-word what was in the paper copy. And there were many editions of the book in paperback and in hardback. Those variations did not bother him a bit. But reading it on an e-book is going too far. So Bradbury has been telling people who want to read FAHRENHEIT 451 that they cannot get it in the format of an e-book. It is Bradbury and not the government restricting literature. There is one Ray Bradbury who feels the dissemination of literature must be free. And there is another Ray Bradbury who feels that the reading experience must not be corrupted with electronic publishing.
Until recently the tactile experience defender has been winning. The free-flow of literature defender has been losing. That decision has been reversed. Bradbury, who is now 91 years old, may feel that books will change with time, but must not go away. The future of reading should not be dependent on the killing of trees. On the other hand once you have a paper book, you possess it. It is a thing in your hand. Amazon could conceivably stop carrying FAHRENHEIT 451, but you still have a book. Bradbury must entertained such doubts. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. His FAHRENHEIT 451 will be available as an e-book.
THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This film is a Portuguese fantasy written and directed by Manoel de Oliveira. The pace is operatic and slow enough so that there is not much story here. Some dreamlike photography and a soothing musical score are pluses but slow, draggy telling is likely to frustrate the viewer and pay off with far too little reward for the effort of watching. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Spoiler Warning: There is so little happening in this film to move the story forward that even saying what the film is about is most of the plot.
Manoel de Oliveira is the oldest known film director still working. He was born December 11, 1908. That makes him just short of 103 as of this writing; he was 101 when me made this film. If he is slowing down, it is not enough to stop him from directing. But if he is, it is showing up in his films. A scene will carry on for roughly twice as long as most filmmakers would allow it, frequently just letting the camera linger over a not very engaging setting with no action. This means that there is not really much story being told. If I recount nearly anything at all of the plot, it will probably reveal most of the story.
De Oliveira's story, set in the rural Douro Valley of northern Portugal, tells of Isaac (played by Ricardo Trepa), a Sephardic Jew. He is a professional photographer called in the middle of the night on an emergency job. A woman, Angelica (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), has died on her wedding day and her family needs a photograph of the dead girl, a memento mori of the recently deceased. The devout Catholic family is at first unsure they want a Jew for the job. But it is an emergency. As Isaac looks through his lens at the beautiful corpse he sees or imagines he sees her smile at him. He is immediately smitten with love for her and for days after he is obsessed with his memories of the beautiful--yes, angelic--face.
Ironically, Isaac, an outsider in this area, is interested in the old ways of living. The people who live in the area are more modern thinkers. Isaac is fascinated by photographing laborers as they work in a field as they have for centuries. His landlady believes that is foolish. After all, that work is embarrassing. As she tells some friends or boarders over the dinner table, that sort of work is and should be done by machines today.
Quite unexpectedly for de Oliveira there are some visual effects. Somehow that does not seem his usual style (though admittedly I have actually seen only one of his other films, I'M GOING HOME). His style seems too organic to for visual effects. But while his effects may be technical, the images he creates with them remind one of effects in George Melies's silent films and the images he creates remind one of surrealist Mark Chagall. The slow pacing is matched with soft piano music and more often silence.
This is both a romance and a ghost story, but fans of neither genre will get much to satisfy them is what is really too sparse a film for its own good. I rate THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It makes little sense to call this film THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA. If anything it should be THE STRANGE CASE OF ISAAC. Only Isaac knows that Angelica is at all involved.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1282153/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/leeper-angelica
QUANTUM: EINSTEIN, BOHR, AND THE GREAT DEBATE ABOUT THE NATURE OF REALITY by Manjit Kumar (book review by Gregory Frederick):
I just finished another book detailing the history and growth of modern physics. This book is titled QUANTUM: EINSTEIN, BOHR, AND THE GREAT DEBATE ABOUT THE NATURE OF REALITY by Manjit Kumar. The book gets to the heart of the development of quantum mechanics.
This book essentially covers the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics theory. The principal architect of the Copenhagen Interpretation was Niels Bohr and this version contains Bohr's correspondence principle, Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Max Born's probably interpretation of the wave function, Bohr's principle of complementary and the collapse of the wave function. Quantum mechanics theory addresses the world of sub- atomic particles. This world was being explored by physicists in the early 1900s.
The ongoing conflict between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein over the evolution of this theory is highlighted in the book. Einstein never thought that quantum mechanics was a complete theory since it did not specify exact quantities like position and momentum for sub-atomic particles all of the time. Bohr thought that only when a sub-atomic particle (an electron for example) is observed will it have a definite position or momentum. But you can never know both position and momentum of an electron as is expressed in the uncertainty principle. The sub-atomic realm is beyond human experience and so it is difficult to understand for many including some physicists. The wave particle duality property of sub-atomic particles like photons and electrons is another example of the strangeness in this extremely small world.
Sometimes photons and electrons will act like a particle and sometimes they will act like a wave but a photon or an electron will never be both a wave and a particle. This dual phenomenon of nature is not something humans can easily relate too. Quantum entanglement of two sub-atomic particles is another example of unusual effects in the quantum world.
Two entangled electrons which could be separated by vast distances are connected so that when you sample the properties of the electron near to you the other one which could be at the planet Neptune will have properties related to the electron near to you. Though there is no conventional way for data to be transmitted between those two particles which are so far apart; they still have a connection that occurs in the quantum world. The author of this good book lets the reader see into the minds of the main players in Quantum Mechanics and the overall development of the theory. [-gf]
NOW & LATER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Yes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Sex mixes with politics in this story of a former international banker on the run from the law who has a brief and educational encounter with a liberal and liberated Nicaraguan refugee. The politics is probably more entertaining than the sex and neither is particularly new and exciting. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10.
As Angela (Charli Solaris) tells Bill (Keller Wortham), Americans live in the future. They live for the later, while she lives for the now. (I am not sure an environmentalist would agree that Americans are too concerned about the future.) Americans take their money that they do not spend and invest it so that later they can get a better car and a bigger house. And later they will have more to invest. Angela and Bill end up nicknaming each other Mr. Later and Ms. Now. The irony is that Bill is on the run from the law because he did not think enough about what his later might be. Bill was at one time an international banker. He was one of the self-proclaimed "Masters of the Universe". This particular Master of the Universe overreached himself a bit when he embezzled funds from his company. He got caught and was sentenced to eight years in jail. As the film opens Bill is on the run from the law after having jumped bail. His former driver Luis suggests he can hide in the Latino neighborhood and brings him to a restaurant where Nicaraguan Angela happily takes him in.
Angela is in the United States illegally, having fled from oppression in her home country. She is someone who cannot do too much for others. Her time is spent helping other Latinos. She also enjoys sex a great deal without any hang-ups. After a short interval of Bill's discomfort they share both sexual and verbal intercourse. The verbal presents her left wing worldview. Most of the points made are familiar. The CIA has backed dictators and undermined popular leaders. Bill listens astounded as if he was completely ignorant that this was going on and challenges none of what he is being told. Angela is amazed herself to find out the international bankers who engage in arbitrage call themselves Masters of the Universe. Neither seems very well informed and neither is more than a thinly characterized type, in spite of Diaz's claim that both characters were inspired by people he knew. The "live for the moment" message is a familiar one going back at least to ZORBA THE GREEK.
The film gives a somewhat idealized view of working-class Latinos. They look out for each other. When one is in trouble everyone comes to help. Their spokesperson Angela is radiant. She gives selflessly of herself whenever she can. She seems too good to be true. She has come from a place where deep injustices have been done to her family, and now she just wants to help others. Philippe Diaz who writes and directs this film is taking few chances that the viewer is not going to like her. Bill, who in the beginning represents the opposing point of view, begins stiff and uptight. He learns that Angela's uninhibited way and her politics are right. This is all just a bit unsubtle.
Diaz also wrote and directed the feature documentary THE END OF POVERTY? He is no Bernardo Bertolucci, but their interests and approaches are similar. Both recognize that an audience can be attracted with the soft-core sexual themes in a film and will stay around for the political payload. Without the sexual content the story of Bill and Angela would have been pat with a little message salted on. I rate NOW & LATER a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
[NOW & LATER was released on Blu-Ray on November 29, 2011.]
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0865560
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/now_and_later/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I'm reading THE FIFTIES by Edmund Wilson (edited by Leon Edel, ISBN 978-0-374-52066-3), not so much because I'm that interested in Wilson, but because his observations about people and places are interesting and well-written. For example, he talks about Aleksandr Pushkin's great-granddaughter: "Olga Loris-Melikov, the great-granddaughter of Pushkin, said to Elena, of some novel she had been reading: 'I read through four hundred pages--it was very boring--to find that the hero has a little black blood--that's what the whole story has been about! Why should I be excited about that?"
Edel in his footnote helpfully notes, "Pushkin was said to have had an Ethiopian ancestor." Actually, I think it is more definitely established than that: Pushkin's great-grandfather was an Ethiopian named Gannibal (later Abram Petrovich Gannibal). In any case, I was reminded of someone on Usenet who talked about watching SOUTH PACIFIC when she was a teenager in the 1980s and not understanding what everyone in the film was getting so agitated about--eventually she twigged to it being that the European Emile de Becque had married a Polynesian, and his children were therefore mixed-race. At the time the musical was written, this was, if not shocking, at least somewhat disapproved of by many. Nowadays, it can be understood only as a period piece, similar to GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER or SHOW BOAT.
(In Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" (or rather, in Luigi Illica's libretto for "Madame Butterfly"), Pinkerton's wife doesn't seem to have any problems about taking and raising his child by Cho-Cho- San. I would have said that this was probably because Illica was writing for a European audience, but he based it on an American short story.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There has to be a mathematical explanation for how bad that tie is. --Russell CroweTweet
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