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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/30/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 40, Whole Number 1695
Table of Contents
With Deep Regret (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am very sorry to say that after publishing the MT VOID since 1978, almost all of that time as a weekly notice, this will be our last issue. We have enjoyed writing the VOID over the years. Thank you for all the quality readership.
As I say, this will be our last issue and will remain so for a week. On April 6 our next issue will become our last issue and the April 13 issue will become next issue. And so forth. That's the way it works.
Hey, did you notice that April has a Friday the 13th as well as an April Fools Day? [-mrl]
Ten Things Your Tarot Reader Won't Tell You (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I cannot believe this was written with a straight face. I can think of one thing your tarot reader probably will not tell you.
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Once again it is time to look at what is coming up on Turner Classic Movies for the coming month and decide what I would recommend. (Again I remind people that I have no connection to Turner. They are merely the best source for older films--ones generally without superheroes or torture porn. I have to show some admiration for a television channel that essentially is running a film festival that started and just never stopped. For most films that they show they provide fairly good film notes which you can find by putting the title of a film into their search box on most of their pages and telling it to search their site. For example, I notice that EYES WITHOUT A FACE has extensive film notes at http://tinyurl.com/mrl-yeux. All times are Eastern Standard Time.
Perhaps the most interesting film of the month for horror fans is LES YEUX SANS VISAGE or EYES WITHOUT A FACE directed by Georges Franju based on a novel by Jean Redon. If it is indeed a horror film, it is an ethereal and almost poetic one. A plastic surgeon will stop at nothing to replace the scarred face of his daughter. He kidnaps beautiful women, kills them and steals their faces to graft onto his daughter's face. It is an idea that showed up in many European horror films, particularly in the decade following this 1960 film. A very similar idea was used, for example, in ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, made the same year. Jesus Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF also had a mad plastic surgeon trying to restore his daughter's beauty. Wikipedia also adds Jesus Franco's FACELESS. Mad plastic surgeons are still showing up, most recently in Pedro Almadovar's THE SKIN I LIVE IN. But the image of the surgeon's daughter in a mask to hide her face has an otherworldly beauty that is an indelible sight and a true iconic image. This film was released in the United States, unfortunately retitled as THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS, and put on a mismatched double bill with THE MANSTER. The musical score was provided by someone who was to be one of the great screen composers, Maurice Jarre. It has not shown on TCM since 2008. [Wednesday, April 10, 10:15 PM]
As far as I am concerned one of the funniest films ever made is BEDAZZLED (1967). It is one long sketch by the one-time comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Moore plays Stanley Moon, a little nebbish grill man at Wimpy Burgers in London. Stanley wants to date co-worker Margaret who has never even noticed him. So Moon decides to do away with himself, only to fail at that also. He would try again, but he has a visit from the Devil, who uses the name George Spiggott. The Devil has a great deal for Stanley, seven wishes in return for Stanley's soul. What follows is seven sub-stories Stanley getting wishes granted only to find out that the Devil outsmarts him at every turn. Along the way there is hilarious dialog like meetings with the Seven Deadly Sins in human form. Raquel Welch plays Lust (a.k.a. "Lillian Lust, the babe with the bust"). Stanley's seventh wish has become a classic all by itself. This is a very funny film. [Friday, April 13, 5:45 PM]
One nice entry for the month is the steam-punky pirate film THE CRIMSON PIRATE with Burt Lancaster. What Douglas Fairbanks was for the silent era, Burt Lancaster was for the post-WWII period. From the late 1940s and the 1950s he was an action star who could do his own stunts. Frequently at his side was a 5'4" mute, Nick Cravat. (Nick had been Lancaster's partner when the two comprised the circus acrobatic team "Lang & Cravat". Cravat would always be Lancaster's sidekick. Cravat could speak perfectly well, by the way, but public speaking was not his forte and he had a thick Brooklyn accent so by choice he played mutes. Of nineteen films that Cravat made, ten also featured Burt Lancaster. The last was THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977). Without Lancaster, Cravat also played the gremlin that William Shatner saw on the wing of his plane in the "Twilight Zone" episode.) THE CRIMSON PIRATE was one of Lancaster's most fun films. Lancaster plays the pirate with a sort of twinkle in his eye and his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. As I say the film takes a decided turn for Steam Punk. (Steam Punk is the name given to 18th century engineering science fiction. Think Jules Verne or "The Wild, Wild West".) [Sunday, April 15, 12:15 AM]
Also running in April is DETOUR, CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER, BILLY BUDD, and RED PLANET MARS.
(I cannot actually recommend RED PLANET MARS as being at all good. It is a strong jingoist anti-communist film of the 1950s. But it is interesting because it is the only future extrapolation that suggests that the Soviet Union would fall apart when people just decided they just were tired of Communism. That is not a lot different from what eventually happened.) [-mrl]
Counting Countries (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
People often ask us how many countries we have visited. It is not a simple question to answer. (States are easier--all fifty, though even there one has to add "and Washington, D.C.").
First, there are 45 unequivocal countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Turks & Caicos, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, Zimbabwe
Then there are four countries which were all part of one country when we visited, but split up about a week later:
And another two that also split (though more peacefully):
Two "countries" were actually British territories:
(And Hong Kong is now part of China, but not completely incorporated there either.)
While we're at it, some people would count four more we have visited as countries (if not sovereign nations):
The last six are not sovereign nations, but are countries in the sense of being treated as separate entities from their governing nations by various organizations--for example, the International Olympic Committee and AMPAS (Puerto Rico and Hong Kong), and various sport associations (Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).
Four others--which at least are undisputed countries--barely count:
And finally, three "one-offs";
So I believe that the strictest count would be 49, and the most inclusive would be 64. My guess is that the number the most people would agree on would be 61. [-ecl]
FROM TIME TO TIME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a kind of ghost story, but it is not a scare-fest. It is a reserved but compelling adventure involving ghosts and time travel as a World War II era boy finds his family's mansion is a gateway to a mysterious past that holds family secrets. It was written and directed by Julian Fellowes, who won an Academy Award for his writing of GOSFORD PARK. The accent is on characters and telling a good story and not on blood. For me the icing on the cake was to discover that Ealing Studios made it. That is a revival of the legendary British production company of the 1940s and 1950s. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Well, the first unexpected touch of the film is in the opening banners. It said "Ealing Studios". That came as a very pleasant surprise. Ealing Studios turned out some of the best British films in the 1940s and 1950s. DEAD OF NIGHT was from Ealing. The Ealing comedies were legendary and many of them featured a young Alec Guinness including KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB, and THE LADY KILLERS. I had thought that the last Ealing films came out in 1959. Apparently that was true for more than four decades. The IMDB tells me that that same production company was revived in 2002. I had enjoyed their BURKE AND HARE (2010) without ever realizing that was an Ealing film. Ealing studios seems like a visitor from another time, which makes it particularly appropriate that I noticed their return with the film FROM TIME TO TIME.
And with FROM TIME TO TIME it is more than the production company that brings up happy memories. This is very much an old-fashioned ghost story with a bit of time travel thrown into the mix as well. It is no gory scare-fest. The accent is more on fantasy than it is on horror. The story is based on a novel by Lucy M. Boston, but Julian Fellowes adapted the novel to a screenplay and then directed it. Fellowes understands the British country house living of past eras. He scripted GOSFORD PARK and with its meticulous attention to period class structure detail and received an Academy Award for his writing. Here he has only a light touch of horror. The point of the film is story telling with good characters. And there even is some interesting metaphysical speculation as to what ghosts may actually be and even a bit of time travel paradox.
With an opening reminiscent of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, we are in December 1944 with Tolly (played by Alex Etel of MILLIONS), around fourteen years old, going to the country to visit his grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow (Maggie Smith of THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) who lives in the family's large ancestral home, Green Knowe. The mansion itself becomes a character, the height of early 19th century splendor, but now dark and dusty and soon to be sold as no longer maintainable by the family. It is still tended by caretaker Boggis (great character actor Timothy Spall), the last of generations of Boggis family caretakers for Green Knowe. There is an uneasy relationship between Tolly and Mrs. Oldknow at first. Tolly is wound up in worrying about his father, missing in the war. Tolly is convinced he will see his father again. Things take a decidedly different turn when Tolly starts seeing translucent images of people who lived in the mansion from the early 1800s. He thinks of them as ghosts and his grandmother believes them to be ghosts also. But they seem to be in a world that links the mansion as it is in 1944 and the way it was in 1805. And Tolly becomes involved in some unpleasant doings in his family back then. There are one or two mildly scary scenes with ghosts, but this is not a shock'em sort of ghost story but instead an adventure across time as Tolly tries to help resolve some injustices of the past.
The cast is well-supported with Smith and Spall. Also present is as the WWII-era maid is Pauline Collins, who in the 1970s played downstairs maid Sarah on BBC's "Upstairs, Downstairs". She might have been a touch typecast, but it is a role she knows well. Hugh Bonneville of "Downton Abbey" does a nice turn as the sympathetic father of the 1805 family. FROM TIME TO TIME is a reminder of how enchanting a fantasy can still be if not taking over by digital imagery and if it has a few interesting characters and a few nice touches of plotting. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. FROM TIME TO TIME has been playing at film festivals and has been recently released on DVD from Freestyle.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1031241/>
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/from-time-to-time/>
THE LAST HAWK by Catherine Asaro (Tor copyright 1997, Blackstone Audio copyright 2000, 13 hours 51 minutes, narrated by Anna Fields) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
THE LAST HAWK is another entry in Catherine Asaro's "Skolian Empire" series. It tells the story of Kelric, son of Roca Skolia and Eldrinson Valdoria, who crashed on the planet Coba and was missing from the Empire for over eighteen years. Of the four "Skolian Empire" audiobooks that I have listened to so far, this is probably the weakest, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book--it's just the "least" of the four.
Coba is a planet that is off-limits to the Empire at the desire and via the deception of the planetary leaders. Coban society is a run by a powerful matriarchy. There are 12 "estates", each led by a woman manager, one of which is actually the planetary leader. They desire to keep their society separate and away from the Empire. They believe that the Empire is evil and dictatorial, and fear the consequences of the Empire coming in, developing a presence on the planet, and making Coba a part of the Empire. The only evidence on Coba that the Skolian Empire even exists is an automated Empire spaceport. The minister (planetary leader) has been successful in keeping Empire influence out of Skolian society--until Kelric crash lands on Coba.
They don't know what to do with him. He is injured and dying. His internal biomechs are failing, and the meds that keep him alive are malfunctioning as well. Their choices are to take him back to one of the estates, or let him die.
It is a tough choice for them. On one hand, they don't want him or the Empire contaminating their world, and on the other hand letting him die is anathema to them. They abolished war and killing long ago, when society was on the brink of extinction due to endless warfare. Letting him die is seen as a return to the old ways. So they bring him back to one of the estates and attempt to nurse him back to health. And they teach him an odd dice game called Quis.
Quis is more than just a dice game. Quis is an information network, although Kelric doesn't know it at the start. Quis is what the estate managers of Coba came up with to replace war. Quis is played to make political decisions, pass information, perform espionage, do science, etc. Let me digress a bit to state that Asaro, being a mathematician and physicist, knows a thing or two about networks, and indeed has them in one form or another all over the Skolian novels. I found this particular incarnation of networks, a dice game, to be quite intriguing, although in reality I can't get my head around some of the concepts of Quis and how information was stored and transmitted through the Quis network. But I digress.
It turns out that while women run the planet, men run the Quis network. Each estate has a commune of sorts, called a Calanya, where the Quis players, called Calani, reside and do nothing but play Quis, making decisions that change the destiny of the planet. Each time a Calani is traded from one estate to another, he gains a "level". There hasn't been anyone higher than a 4th level since anyone can remember. Kelric becomes a Calani, and then through various political machinations gets traded enough times to become a powerful 6th level Calani. But the price that Coban society pays for having a 6th level off-world Calani in their midst is to great to bear. Kelric injects part of himself into the Quis, changing the face of Coba forever.
As I said, this is the weakest of the four I've listened to so far, but it's not bad. The narration, however, leaves even more to be desired than in the previous books, as Anna Fields narrates this installment, and isn't very good. Her attempts to do a male voice, and of course do different male voices, falls flat, in my opinion. I see that she's scheduled to read the next few installments that I'll be listening to. I hope she got better. [-jak]
Hypnotized by THE MENTALIST (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
A family favorite at the Skran-Paltin manse is THE MENTALIST. I've been a fan since the first season, and Sam (my seventeen-year-old son) has become a fan as well. Jo, my wife, has finally admitted after seeing a few choice episodes that it grows on you. THE MENTALIST is also fairly popular among the general TV audience as well, possibly because it is the sort of police procedural of which LAW AND ORDER and CSI are among the best known recent examples much beloved to the American TV audience. It has all the elements of the standard procedural--a weekly murder, a crack investigative unit (the CBI--California Bureau of Investigation), and a colorful detective, Patrick Jane. In some cases there is even a butler as a suspect.
There is no such thing as the "CBI" although it is clearly based on a real organization--the "Bureau of Investigation & Intelligence" in the State of California Department of Justice, which has regional offices in California, and, according to their web site, is involved in "Investigating the 'worst of the worst,' including cases involving acts of terrorism, child exploitation, unsolved violent crimes, homicides, officer-involved shootings, and organized crime groups."
What separates THE MENTALIST from a host of other police procedurals is the character of Patrick Jane, a former carnival mentalist and professional con man who has committed the unforgivable sin of challenging Red John, a serial killer, on public TV. Red John punishes Jane by horribly killing his wife and child. After recovering after a spell in an institution, Jane joins the CBI as a consultant, ostensibly to assist in murder in investigations as a "psychic", but in reality to use the CBI as a springboard to find and kill Red John.
On some level Jane is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, with the CBI team filling the role of Watson. Certainly Jane possesses the powers of observation that made Holmes famous, and apparently can routinely replicate the sort of deductions attributed to Conan Doyle's most famous creation. The Holmsian "scientific" detective aspects are to a large part taken on by the well-equipped CBI team, which can call on modern-day forensics and computer searches. However, Jane brings to the table characteristics Holmes did not. As a circus mentalist, Jane is expert at memory tricks and strategies, and can apply his skills to gambling to such good effect that he almost always wins, even at things like horse racing that, to such an extent that his abilities appear supernatural. Jane is an expert hypnotist, and hypnosis plays a role in some but not all of the plots. Most importantly, as a professional con man, Jane usually manipulates his way to the murderer in a fashion that is much more hands-on than Holmsian. Jane's bag of tricks appears to include the full Monty of Houdini-style slight of hand, séance, and telepathy acts as well as the misdirection usually done as part of a con.
THE MENTALIST is different from Holmes in several important ways. First, Holmes was portrayed as somewhat of a boxer and a swordsman, although, of course, not nearly as dangerous as his modern day incarnation in two recent movies as a kick-boxer. Jane is completely non-physical in his crime fighting approach, or at least is no more physical than the average person is. He avoids any kind of physical confrontation, relying completely on his superior mentality and on the CBI team for any required fisticuffs. Second, Holmes often used disguise, but Jane, if he uses a disguise, it is of the most minor sort, such as putting on a trench coat and a hat, and is usually part of a con. Finally, Holmes is not primarily driven by the motive of personal revenge as is Jane.
So far we have the elements of a decent TV murder-mystery show, perhaps similar to COLUMBO or LAW AND ORDER. What carries THE MENTALIST into new territory--SF genre territory--are the addition of several themes that are not typically seen in police procedurals, namely  plots that routinely skirt the edge of fantasy and science fiction in subject matter,  an on-going concern with the issues raised by mind-controlling cults, and  a meditation on the conflict between what can only be described as two supermen, and on the nature of super-humanity itself.
First let's take a look at some of the fantasy/SF themed episodes. In Season 1/10, "Red Brick and Ivy" Jane's former psychiatrist is accursed of murder while working on a project to alter mental states between good and evil. Most of the main characters believe that the technology works. Jane pulls a con where he pretends to have been programmed by the machine to an "evil" state and goes on a rampage. In the end, it turns out that the machine never had been working. In Season 1/12 "Red Rum" a student is found, the apparent victim of a satanic sacrifice. A witch, Tamzin Dove, confesses to having put a death spell on the student. For much of the show, it appears either that the witch is responsible for the death via magic, or that at a minimum she is leading some kind of secret society of dangerous witches.
The Season 1/18, "Russet Potatoes" deals with a mastermind who uses hypnosis to commit murders. This episode has a lot of the feel of the old Saturday matinee villains like "Dr. Satan" since it deals with a bad guy who, although not actually having any superhuman powers, is way over the edge of what most murderers can do, resulting in an anything can happen, comic-book feel to the story. Season 1/22, "Blood Brothers" revolves around the Legend of Zachariah, a Jason-like murderous spook, who for at least part of the story, appears to be real, before being outed Scooby-Doo style by Jane. In Season 2/5, "Red Scare," during the early part of the episode it appears that the murder was committed by a ghost with supernatural powers. In due time Jane exposes the hokus-pokus as fakery. Season 2/16, "Code Red," deals with the possible release of a deadly bio-weapon.
THE MENTALIST explores at some length the dangers posed by cults based on mind control. In Season 2/20 "Red All Over," the character of Bret Styles (played well by Malcolm McDowell), the leader of the Visualization Self-Realization Center, is introduced. Styles displays many of the same abilities as Jane, and seems to know more about Red John than an ordinary citizen should be able to find out. The Visualization Center is loosely based on Scientology, founded by former SF writer L. Ron Hubbard. Styles returns in another episode in Season 4 which contains some frightening scenes that demonstrate his absolute control over his many followers as well as his deep insight in the human psyche. This episode ends with Styles "owing" Jane a favor, as Styles realizes that Jane has "been playing a deep game." Other episodes that involve group-think and mind control include Season 1/18, "Russet Potatoes" (a cult-like hypnosis training center using "neuro-linguistic programming") and Season 1/22, "Blood Brothers" wherein a youth camp uses disturbing methods to control its inmates.
Patrick Jane is a suitable candidate for super-humanity. Although he staunchly denies having any supernatural powers, it is clear that he has so far developed his mental abilities that there is very little difference between what Jane might do with actual supernatural powers and what he can do without them. Jane has no need to concern himself with the sorts of things that trouble ordinary mortals. He demonstrates over and over that he can easily obtain any amount of money if he needs it carry out a con or do a good deed. His knowledge of the human mind and inner desires are so great that he operates as a human lie detector and appears telepathic if he wishes to exert himself. Jane can seduce any woman--or any man, and get them to do whatever he wants. By stopping criminal after criminal, including some quite clever masterminds who approach him in intelligence, such as the SJK killer, Jane demonstrates that he is almost without exception the smartest--and the most dangerous--person in any room. To such a person, a normal life presents not the slightest challenge.
But Jane does have an overreaching challenge, a "great white whale"--killing Red John--someone, who, although twisted and sick, seems just as capable as Jane, or even more so. Red John demonstrates phenomenal ability in many areas--operational planning, manipulation, technology, computers, recruiting, and hypnosis, where he is clearly Jane's superior (he is able to hypnotize a woman into believing that she is dead and a ghost so deeply that Jane can't undo the effect). Red John seems to be able to assemble a team of highly skilled and completely fanatical personnel to take on any task, and to get to individuals that would otherwise be incorruptible. It often appears that Red John enjoys his battles with Jane, who may be the only person capable of offering John any challenge. Red John even goes so far as saving Jane's life on one occasion so that the game can continue.
Red John is clearly a psychopath, but as is revealed in the fourth season, so is Patrick Jane. Jane has made a conscious choice to separate himself from humanity as he pursues Red John. In this journey he is willing to use anyone, kill anyone (well, almost), including himself, and do anything. He has divorced his feelings from his thoughts so that he operates with total clarity and stability in the most trying circumstances. Jane has no respect for the rule of law or the conventions of humanity, except as it is convenient. This makes Jane incredibly dangerous and unpredictable. Circumstances that would be deeply distressing to normal folks, like being locked in a cell with a dangerous murderer, are for him just another problem to be solved. What makes Jane such an interesting character is that as he seeks Red John he regains his humanity a bit at time, gradually starting to care about the CBI team and himself. Along this journey, Jane takes every possible opportunity to enjoy a life he knows could end at any moment, and to do good deeds as he passes, certain he is unlikely to survive his final encounter with Red John.
To Patrick Jane and Red John, the normal run of humanity are simply tools to accomplish their ends, little more than shadows. Their abilities of manipulation are so strong that knowing what they are does not protect even an intelligent, experienced agent from being manipulated by them to achieve virtually any outcome. There are a few people that rise to be noticed by Red John and Jane, such as the SJK killer, but those persons always end up crushed in the cross-fire. So far only Bret Styles seems to operate anywhere near their level and remain unscathed.
Patrick Jane could easily be a Heinleinian or Campbellian superman. His apparent lack of any true superhumanity is in itself a type of superhumanity. Jane and Red John are on the far end of the bell curve, the one in a billion intellects that are so far advanced over even so-called geniuses that they exist on a different plane, a plane in which only each other offer a real challenge. It is clearly this challenge that draws Red John to Patrick Jane. At first Red John merely appeared to want to punish Jane, but one wonders if their relationship is not in Red John's view a long-term recruitment/training exercise.
Programs like THE MENTALIST create the conundrum that Red John is such a great villain that almost any ending will be a disappointment, but not to have an ending will be a still greater disappointment. I wish the writers the best in bringing this show to a satisfying conclusion. Along those lines, I have a few speculations I would like to go on the record as making:
* In a season one episode one of Red John's victims leaves a cryptic note in his own blood on the wall, which may be read "He is man." I suspect that the victim was trying to say "He is many" and that Red John is really a death-cult, perhaps led by a mastermind, but in reality a collective of psychopaths or would-be superhumans. This would go a long way to explaining how Red John appears to be so powerful and all-knowing. It would not surprise me to learn that Red John the cult had an origin in some kind of secret government program gone awry.
* I believe that Jane is running a long con on Red John. Some important part of "Patrick Jane" is a lie put in place to be unveiled at the proper moment. One possibility is that Jane is not, in fact, as physically ineffectual as he often appears. There is a season one episode where he throws a bottle in an ash can accurately over Lisbon's head, perhaps 25 feet or more away. It is certainly possible that young Patrick was trained in something other than the tricks of a carny mentalist, perhaps a knife throwing act, etc.
* As I mentioned above, the possibility exists that Red John's real purpose is to recruit Jane, or even train him as his successor. This would explain Red John's protective actions toward Jane which are otherwise hard to fathom. John's goal would be to transform Jane from a mere con man to a wholly amoral killer by setting up a series of situations where Jane is induced to kill someone, either directly or via manipulation, in the furtherance of the quest for Red John. So far Jane's body count is not insignificant. And it has always been true that when you look in the abyss, the abyss looks back.
* As has been hinted in the show, the Director of the CBI Gale Bertram (played by Michael Gaston) will turn out to be part of Red John's team/cult, although not actually the mastermind himself.
* Finally, I suspect that Jane has figured out that Red John is "many" and knows that he must assemble a similar team (the "Cult of Jane") to overcome Red John's many fanatical assistants and henchmen. Bret Styles' "favor" owed to Jane might make him part of Cult Jane, and of course the CBI team has been carefully guided to trust Jane over anyone, and certainly over CBI management. CBI Special Agent Grace Van Pelt, who killed her own fiancé after finding that he was an agent of Red John, seems like she would be especially willing to take on any risk to bring down John. Another possible member of Cult Jane is Madeline Hightower, who owes Jane her life and has ample reason to hate Red John.
In conclusion, I remain hypnotized by THE MENTALIST!!
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This week seems to be an alternate history week, although the first book is not, strictly speaking, alternate history.
THE MIRACLE OF FREEDOM: 7 TIPPING POINTS THAT SAVED THE WORLD by Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart (ISBN 978-1-60641-951-9) is definitely a book with an agenda. The authors describe their first book, SEVEN MIRACLES THAT SAVED AMERICA, has trying to answer these questions:
However, from a counterfactual point of view, it is certainly worth considering 1) whether the tipping points they chose are tipping points, and 2) whether tipping in the other direction would have had the results they claim.
Their tipping points are:
[I have to say that though Evelyn does not entirely agree with me I think the author is wrong on what a "tipping point" actually is. A tipping point is the same phenomenon as a "watershed" or "the straw that broke the camel's back." It is an even when a continuous change causes a sudden non-continuous change. For example, snow slowly falling on the side of a mountain accumulates a tiny bit at a time until it becomes too heavy and falls in an avalanche. What is listed are "pivotal points," but an argument would have to be made to show they are "tipping points." Wikipedia says, "[Malcolm] Gladwell defines a tipping point as 'the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.'" -mrl]
"Had the Franks not succeeded [at Poitiers], respect for religious freedom, minority rights, women's rights, and government based on reason and democracy would surely not exist." Poitiers was in 732, and if one looks at the next *thousand years* of the Christian Europe that was saved, one sees nothing of religious freedom, minority rights, women's rights, or government based on reason and democracy. To claim that these suddenly appeared over a millennium later because of this victory is not a statement one can apply the adverb "surely" to.
To be fair, the authors do acknowledge that Christianity has had its negative influences as well, but they seem to limit these to "the corruption that befell the church in the latter centuries of the Middle Ages" (specifically the 14th and 15th centuries). This manages to put the blame on the Roman Catholic Church, and as a side effect making Protestantism look like the church's savior. They gloss over the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecutions of religious minorities (often other Christian sects), and all the sorts of things that they are quick to point out in other religions. They talk about Christianity's message of equality for all, and do not discuss how it supported slavery for centuries. In short, they give credit to Christianity for all its good aspects, and blame corrupt men and women for its bad, while blaming other religions (specifically Islam) for all the negative things done in their names.
More specifically, Christianity gets the credit for making Europe what it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. But Christianity just as surely made Russia what it was in the 18th and 19th centuries--a land of serfs (basically, slaves) where individuals had few rights and an all-powerful Tsar ruled them all. The claim that they were worse off than if the Mongols had remained needs something more than mere assertion. All the barbarity the authors ascribe to the Mongols can be found in the Russians, or for that matter in the Europeans.
I do not deny that these "tipping points" (more accurately, turning points) made a difference. Certainly things would be different if any of these went a different way. But "saved the world"? What exactly does that mean? To the Stewarts, it means "saved the world to become a Christian, capitalist culture just like ours." But if man-made global climate change is real, and as serious as some claim, perhaps all that these have done is set the world up for another massive extinction--in which case, one could hardly say they "saved the world." If this is the case, wouldn't a change that avoided the Industrial Revolution be what would save the world?
THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen (ISBN 978-0-316-17672-9) seems like a response to all those "Time Police" stories where it is taken as a given that the "present" that they are trying to save is worth saving. A few weeks ago I reviewed THE END OF ETERNITY by Isaac Asimov, which ultimately did not take this position, but most of its followers have (in part because it makes it a lot easier to write a series if you are effectively pressing a reset button at the end of each story). But in THE REVISIONISTS, the time police have come back to our Washington, D.C., to safeguard the events leading to the "Conflagration" that destroyed our civilization and almost all historical records, and hence allowed the creation of their "Perfect Present.
Or so it seems. But this "Perfect Present" is clearly a Stalinist dystopia where knowledge of history is forbidden except in the broadest terms, and even thinking about the past is prohibited. (For example, we discover that when someone dies, a squad comes in and removes all traces of their existence: pictures, belongings, clothing, even their smell.) And there seem to be far more "hags" (historical agitators) than seems reasonable.
One reviewer has criticized Mullen's history--for example, the statement that the atomic bomb was used on Japan only because Americans felt that the Japanese were subhuman. That statement is made, but by Zed, the time policeman from the future who has a very sketchy idea of any history not directly related to his mission. Zed is clearly confused about other aspects of 20th and early 21st century history, so why should this be any different?
THE COMPANY MAN by Robert Jackson Bennett (ISBN 978-0-316-05470-6) is basically steampunk, which means it can be seen as alternate history, but not very effectively--alternate history requires more actual history, while steampunk emphasizes the technology without spending more time on politics, or sociology, or other aspects. (Which is not to say that steampunk ignores the alternate history aspects, but it does not focus on them.) So while Bennett does have some geopolitical changes (without McNaughton, he writes, "the German Crisis might never have been averted"), he does not spend a lot of time on them, and in fact makes the error of referring to "Pakistan" in the world of 1920 [page 216]. The name "Pakstan" was coined by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1933 as an acronym of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and the suffix -stan from Balochistan. The "i" was added later to ease pronunciation. (A variety of other acronymic break-downs were created later to use all the letters.) Its use by someone in 1920 is completely anachronistic.
THE COMPANY MAN is okay as a noir steampunk, but if you are looking for alternate history, you will be disappointed.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN by Mark Hodder (ISBN 978-1- 616-14359-6) is a sort of supernatural steampunk adventure with Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne as secret agents. It is okay, but every once in a while Hodder makes a goof. Sometimes it is something blatantly wrong: "The cactus has reloaded already. For as long as it's in a defensive state, it'll produce spines continuously. You could fire this thing for hours on end and never run out of ammunition!" (page 214) Has this cactus repealed the law of conservation of mass?
Other times it is an awkward attempt to draw a parallel between Hodder's world and ours. Burton is Burton and Swinburne is Swinburne (or at least as far as one can have transworld identities--this may be a future article), but his Burke and Hare are not our Burke and Hare, no matter how cute Hodder gets: "Palmerston's odd-job men [who are named Burke and Hare] resembled nothing so much as a couple of eighteenth-century gravediggers." (page 211) Well, *our* Burke and Hare *were* a couple of eighteenth-century gravediggers, and plopping them into the nineteenth century makes no sense.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN is a sequel to THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK, and is followed by THE EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON. If you're going to read this, you should probably start at the beginning of the series. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer. --Charles Caleb ColtonTweet
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