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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/27/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 44, Whole Number 1699
Table of Contents
Triangle Question (puzzle by Mark R. Leeper):
This problem came up on a podcast. Which triangle has the greater area, one whose sides are of length 10, 10, and 12 or one whose sides are 10, 10, and 16? Prove your answer.
I will publish the names of all who send me correct solutions by the end of the month. [-mrl]
Hundred Best Horror Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"Timeout London" has put together their own list of the hundred best horror films.
Don't take it as Gospel, but it may make some suggestions for films people want to look for.
Hugo Nominees Available On-Line (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Most of the short fiction nominees are available free on-line; a few others are available cheaply. Links can be found at:
https://www.worldswithoutend.com/blog.asp?view=plink&id=830 (short stories)
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for May (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We are now moving into May and it is time for me to be making recommendations for what films people might want to look for on Turner Classic Movies. Ideally I want to be pointing out good films that the reader may have never seen or even heard of. May is another of these months that there are good films I can point to and there are little known films I can point to but there is not a whole lot of overlap I know of. Films that I would consider to be buried treasure are a bit thin on the ground.
Well, the most important film of the month is SPARTACUS. It is a very well made film about the Third Servile Revolt against Rome in 73-71 B.C. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, it would probably be the best of the historical epics about ancient Rome even if it had no particular political importance. In fact, it was one of the most politically influential films in history. The darkest chapter of the American entertainment industry was the years of the Hollywood blacklist. People accused of disloyalty to the government could not confront their accusers, but would suddenly find that nobody would hire them. Careers were destroyed by innuendo. One blacklisted writer was Dalton Trumbo. Before the years of the blacklist he was a successful screenwriter, but when his name appeared on the blacklist he could submit only very few scripts and then only under pseudonyms. Then in 1960 SPARTACUS was released with screen credit given to Trumbo under his own name. Kirk Douglas willfully ignored the blacklist insisting that Trumbo's name appear in the credits in type no smaller than his own name. When there was no fuss from the public, it was generally acknowledged that the blacklist was dead. But as star and producer Douglas had taken a real risk of having his career destroyed. The film has an intelligent script and excellent cast with Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, and particularly good performances from both Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton. (The latter two are rumored to have hated each other with a passion, but while each is good playing by himself, they are really wonderful playing together toward the end of the film.) [Wednesday, May 9, 3:15 AM]
It should be noted that that same day, May 9, TCM is running on the theme of Robin Hood. I do not recommend any of the films as being particularly good in itself, but it might be interesting to see how different directors handle the same basic story. Here is what is running:
6:45 AM Red River Robin Hood (1943) 8:00 AM Robin Hood of El Dorado, The (1936) 9:30 AM Robin And The 7 Hoods (1964) 11:45 AM Challenge For Robin Hood, A (1968) 1:30 PM Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938) 3:30 PM Bandit of Sherwood Forest, The (1946) 5:00 PM Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) 6:30 PM Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
The first three are not really about Robin Hood. They are just about people who are sort of latter day kindred spirits to Robin Hood. The first two are Westerns I have not seen. The third is a gangster film made by the so-called "Sinatra Rat Pack". I have not seen the film since it played in theaters, which would have been 1964. Sinatra fans might like it and it does have Peter Falk.
After that TCM gets to the real Robin Hood films. Years ago when ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES with Kevin Costner came out I complained that it was a long way from the original story. I discovered a lot of people did not know that there really is a specific original story to be faithful to. The story of Robin Hood really comes from a series of ballads from the late Middle Ages. They have been collected and together they constitute a canonical piece of folklore. Incidentally, originally they did not have a Maid Marian or a Friar Tuck. Those two characters are a later invention. But the Costner film even had the conflicts between the wrong people and did things like bringing Islam into the story. There probably are no really good Robin Hood films, but they are mostly entertaining. They finish with SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST, a Hammer film directed by Terence Fisher and starring Richard Greene (who also played Robin Hood in the popular television series). Also starring are Peter Cushing as the evil Sherriff, Oliver Reed, and Edwin Richfield--all familiar to Hammer fans. Also Nigel Green, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Gwillim. Not a great film, but a good one for Hammer completists. This was actually Hammer's second Robin Hood film having done THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST six years earlier. The script is by the unfortunately named Alan Hackney.
Other films, not really obscure, that I can recommend are THE LADYKILLERS (1955) and THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (1951). Each is an Ealing Comedy starring Alec Guinness. They will be shown Friday May 4 at 7:45 and 9:30 respectively. The comedies from Ealing Studios are classics. And if you want very funny English comedies, BEDAZZLED (1967) and THE WRONG BOX (1966) are two of the funniest films I have ever seen. They run respectively at 8 PM and 10 PM on Friday, May 11. At midnight they follow with THE BED SITTING ROOM which may work for you if you were a fan of "The Goon Show" and its style of humor, but even then don't count on it.
Also fairly witty is a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on film noir there is HIS KIND OF WOMAN with a very strange turn for over-the-top an actor played by Vincent Price and Raymond Burr as a villain. This one is worth checking out. [Monday, May 7, 12:30 PM]
Films that may be of interest to B-movie Podcast fans include GANJA AND HESS [Saturday, May 19, 2 AM], THEY LIVE [Saturday, May 5, 2 AM], and I BURY THE LIVING [Wednesday, May 2, 3:30 PM]. [-mrl]
WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT) (1973) (film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 1954, Daniel F. Galouye wrote SIMULACRON-3, and in 1999 Roland Emmerich made it into the film THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR. This received less notice than it might otherwise have, because it followed close on the heels of THE MATRIX and EXISTENZ. But an earlier adaptation of the same book, WORLD ON A WIRE (1973), got even less notice.
WORLD ON A WIRE was made by Rainer Werner Fassbinder for German television. It may well be the first of the "Dickian" films, pre-dating all of Philip K. Dick's films (BLADERUNNER  being the first) and all the films not based on Dick's work that seem to have many of the same themes. It is based on a 1953 novel, of course, and most of Dick's writings post-date that as well. (Does this mean that Dick was inspired by Galouye? Who knows?)
Fassbinder does a lot with his visuals: lighting, set design, art design, ... It seems as though almost every scene either features mirrors prominently (often with the characters shown reflected in them, creating that second-level, non-physical world), or through glass (again setting the characters apart from our world). Frequently there is a distortion of images because of the glass and the reflections, especially through the use of irregular surfaces. Often the effect looks like the artwork of Gustav Klimt, and on occasion some of the fabrics seem to have patterns similar to those found in Klimt.
There is some similarity to Frederik Pohl's "The Tunnel Under the World", particularly in the application of the simulacrum to predicting consumer trends. (THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR dropped a lot of that aspect.) But in "The Tunnel Under the World", the "simulacrum" is not a simulacrum, but a miniature world with a physical reality.
(This is not to be confused with the 1953 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production "World on a Wire", which is about Samuel B. Morse.) [-ecl]
THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (1958) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Czech animator Karel Zeman, nearly forgotten now, was a genius of the animated film. Here, as his masterwork, he adapts a lesser novel by Jules Verne into a highly creative screen adventure. Showing great imagination on a tiny budget Zeman emulates the look of the lithographs of Verne's early editions and makes his film a pioneer in the style that since has been dubbed "steampunk". Even though the style is satirical it is also loving and the film still has the power to captivate the viewer. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Karel Zeman was one of the leading Czech animators with a career from the 1940s to the 1980s, but his prime was in the 1950s and 1960s when he made films like JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955), THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (1958), BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1962) and THE STOLEN AIRSHIP (1966). His animation is punctuated with impish humor. It is claimed that Zeman was inspired and influenced by Georges Méliès. But his own work was later much imitated by Terry Gilliam and even Tim Burton. For THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE he illustrated a Verne novel with animation in the style of the Edouard Riou illustrations of Verne. The Riou illustrations were as closely associated with the Verne narratives as Tenniel's illustrations were for ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Riou was a student of great illustrator Gustave Dore, and the early editions of Jules Verne's novels featured lithographic illustrations by Edouard Riou. Throughout the film Zeman brings to life the Riou illustrations. In the Verne-like technology in the detail to show us detail to the steel plate and rivets. Shades of gray will be produced by lines of white and black as would be done in lithographs.
The film claims to have been shot in a process dubbed "Mysti-mation". This appears to be a process that involves mixing live-action, animation, model work, puppets, stop-motion, and whatever it takes to put an image on the screen. If the blend is not entirely successful that becomes part of the joke. Zeman gives the viewers the impression he is winking at them and offering a conspiracy that neither will notice the rough edges. And this viewer for one readily agreed.
The time is the world of Verne's novels, one with a world obsessed with the miracles of science. The story starts with the main character, one Simon Hart, traveling to visit the genius Professor Roch. On his way he marvels at the then-modern wonders of science, mostly taken from Verne novels. The effect is a symphony of steam and steel. There are bicycle-like flying machines, submarines and ships floating, huge train engines. The flying clipper Albatross flies over Hart's head and Hart is impressed. The land, the sky, and the water are filled with marvelous inventions of the modern age.
Roch, the professor, lives on an isolated and well-protected island where he is creating a new and highly powerful explosive. Unknown to either the main character or Roch there are evil men plotting to assault the island fortress, kidnap the professor, and steal the secret of the explosive. They do and hart finds himself taken with Roch. Behind it all is a villain with huge resources, Count Artigas. Artigas has his own arsenal of very modern weapons including a submarine that he uses to sink ships that are his victims. Unable to steal Roch's science, he steals Roch and forces the scientist to develop weapons for him.
Hart and Roch are taken to an even more isolated lab on a remote and supposedly volcanic island. But the volcano is dormant. The smoke that seems to come from it is really from the man-made manufacturing plant within the volcano's crater. Can Hart and Roch escape?
While all this is really based on an actual, though obscure, novel by Verne, one can see a great deal of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and other more familiar Verne stories as well as other Verne works pulled into the story. Much of the tale is narrated which helps keep down the amount of dubbing needed. The story is somewhat rudimentary, but it is the visuals that are the chief attraction. The plot is not as interesting as the retro-futuristic background.
Zeman creates his effect any way possible and does not worry about preserving realism of scenes. In one sequence a pirate ropes a man. The rope winds around the man in perfect uniform rows. The viewer is fully aware that actor was wrapped very smoothly with the rope, it is pulled off, and then the film is run backward. But Zeman knows the effect will be fun and does not try to be convincing. His style remains tongue-in-cheek and whimsical throughout.
There is a totally superfluous prolog to the film by NBC game show host and newsman Hugh Downs. Downs, from his 1961 vantage point, reminds us how far science has come from Verne's day and how much of the then-modern world was the fulfillment of Verne's visions. Perhaps that was inspired by Edward R. Murrow's prologue to AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956).
It should be noted that this is one of Joseph E. Levine's foreign film discoveries. Levine was a film producer himself, being responsible for films like THE CARPETBAGGERS, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, THE GRADUATE, and ZULU. But he also would find foreign films that were then not likely to be released in the US and would arrange a US release. He did this with GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS; HERCULES (1958); JACK THE RIPPER (1959); MORGAN THE PIRATE; and SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS.
For a film made so far in advance of computer imaging and digital special effects, this film goes a long way to create the mood of Jules Verne's stories. It does that perhaps better than any other film has ever done. I rate THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is available on YouTube. Part 1 is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa6JMMItTcs. At the end of each part you can link to the next.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052374/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fabulous_world_of_jules_verne/
Counting Countries (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Evelyn's comments on counting countries in the 03/30/12 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
On countries: even if the UK is one "country" it's a small area. I prefer to use the UN register of countries, which are more than two hundred now. I've now been to sixty, returning this week from Panama & Costa Rica.
That fraction, ~30%, is most of the best, methinks. [-gb]
Language Creep (letter of comment by Tom Russell):
In response to Mark's comments on language creep in the 04/20/12 issue of the MT VOID, Tom Russell writes:
Local supermarket LESS THAN TEN ITEMS checkout lanes
Freehold Burger King sign: TRY ARE FRIES
Evelyn notes that the BBC covered this same topic this week in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17762034.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Geoff Ryman's Mundane Manifesto (described in the 12/30/11 issue of the MT VOID) calls on science fiction writers to eschew impossibilities such as interstellar empires, time travel, etc., and replace these with:
TWENTY THIRTY by Albert Brooks (ISBN 978-0-312-58372-9) should warm the cockles of Ryman's heart. The problem is that it does focus on what is possible, indeed probable. And what is this? Well, the United States has dug itself into an even deeper debt hole. Because senior citizens are living longer, they are draining the resources of their children (and everyone else). The health care situation has gotten even worse, and if your health insurance lapses, even the simplest procedure can cost you a fortune. And then Los Angeles is hit by a 9.1 earthquake.
The only problem is that this scenario, while possible and even likely in many aspects, pretty much destroys "the awakening bedazzlement and wonder that awaits us as we contemplate the beauties of this Earth and its people and what will happen to them in time." Or as someone asks in the (much overlooked) film SLEEP DEALER, "Is our future a thing of the past?"
However, as a science fiction novel, this is one of the best I have read recently. Depressing as hell, but good. Will it make the Hugo ballot? I figure it has about as much chance as the proverbial snowball.
(Coincidentally, right after I finished TWENTY THIRTY, I ran across an article, "The War Against Youth" by Stephen Marche (at http://tinyurl.com/void-youth-war, which covers a lot of the issues Brooks is writing about.)
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and columnist, and very much known in mainstream circles. So it is a delightful surprise to discover that ON CONAN DOYLE by Michael Dirda (ISBN 978-0-691-15135-9) begins with the sentence: "Sometime in the mid-1990s I was lucky enough to interview Robert Madle, a dealer in science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines, as well as a member of First Fandom, the now much-diminished group--never large--of those piply teens who attended the inaugural 1939 World Science Fiction Convention." How often does one see a mainstream critic who knows about Robert Madle, First Fandom, or even the World Science Fiction Convention, and is willing to admit it, and write about them?
This is not a biography of Doyle, but rather a series of essays about various aspects of Doyle and his writing. Dirda is a fan, both of Doyle and of "boys'" fiction in general. He talks lovingly of buying books through a school book club in the late 1950s, of discovering G. K. Chesterton in the "Junior Catholic Messenger" and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in Hills Department Store.
And every book collector can identify with his early discovery, "Little did I know then that book collecting is less about acquiring books than about finding the shelf space to store them." This is a wonderful book for lovers of Sherlock Holmes, and of books in general.
HEARTS OF IRON by Ekaterina Sedia (ISBN 978-1-60701-257-3) is an alternate history novel that has actual plot (i.e., something other than troop movements); actual characters; a society that exists several years after a definable change in history; a beginning, a middle, and an end, all in one volume; ... excuse me, this has me so flustered I have to go lie down for a moment.
Well, I suppose that is an exaggeration but, truly, so many alternate history novels these days either are part of a trilogy (or even longer series) rather than a self-contained story, or focus so heavily on military planning and troop movements that they completely ignore the society as a whole. Even the portrayal of civilians is mostly in terms of interacting with the military. The rest seem to be societies (usually steampunk) that have some similarity to our own, but no well-defined point of divergence from our time stream. Rather, there is a sort of hand-waving "society developed along more steampunk lines" explanation, which is to say no explanation at all. (The same is true of "everything is the same except Queen Victoria is a vampire" or "everything is the same except there is a zombie invasion.") Ironically, one finds more classical alternate histories in short fiction.
Anyway, in HEARTS OF IRON, the Decembrists succeeded in 1825, and Russia is now more advanced than it was in our time stream. The plot concerns the power struggle among Eurasia's great powers: England, Russia, and China. That Sedia chose a point of divergence not usually used (the only other example I know of is a Russian story), and that her publisher was willing to publish an alternate history not only not focused on World War II or the American Civil War, but not even on the United States, is a bright light in an often-dark landscape of alternate history.
(I do have a minor quibble. The plot involves a woman disguising herself as a man for a period of time at least a few weeks long. Sedia does the same thing every author who uses this device does--completely ignores how the woman deals with menstruation. It would be difficult enough now, with disposable hygiene products, but in 19th century Russia--even an advanced 19th century Russia--trying to conceal this from traveling companions (given the less than private accommodations of the time) would be extremely problematic. I have come to expect this from male authors, but to see it from a female author is surprising.)
What can you say about someone who read CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER by Thomas De Quincey (ISBN 978-0-486-28742-3) and finds the most interesting part De Quincey's description of his library? "Paint me, then, a room seventeen feet by twelve, and not more than seven and a half feet high. ... Of [books], I have about five thousand, collected gradually since my eighteenth year. Therefore, painter, put as many as you can into this room." Okay, the perimeter of the room is (17*2)+(12*2), or 58 feet. There has to be at least one door, and he mentions a fireplace, so let's assume 50 running feet for ease of computation. Seven and a half feet high is 90 inches; if we assume each shelf is 9 inches high (including the shelf itself), that leaves room for 10 shelves, giving us 500 feet of shelving at most. 5000 books in that room would imply 10 books per foot. According to a librarian friend, the rule of thumb today is 25 books for each three feet of shelving (the standard library shelf), or about 8 per foot. (For paperbacks, it is 45 per three feet, but De Quincey had no paperbacks.) I suppose it is possible that there were a higher percentage of thinner books back then, but it still seems that putting 5000 books in the space specified would be a problem.
THE TIME SELLER by Fernando Trias de Bes (read by Kerin McCue) (ISBN 978-0-787-98838-8, audiobook ISBN 978-1-428-12696-1) is a satire which feels like science fiction, though there is not anything in it that is science fictional. (In this regard, it is a lot like China Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY.) Our protagonist, AG ("Average Guy"), lives in the Unnamed Settled Area and works for IBN ("International Business Nonsense"). (The abbreviation for Unnamed Settled Area is never explicitly used.) AG is trying to find some way to make more money, at least enough to cover his mortgage payments. But he never seems to have enough time. And then he realizes that is the solution--sell people time. He starts with five-minute vials of time, but eventually sells larger and larger containers. No matter how much he sells, people want more. Don't have enough time to enjoy your morning coffee. Just open a half-hour can at work and you have a half hour to drink your coffee, put your feet up, and in fact do whatever you want. This is the sort of premise that does not bear close examination, and the book is best read as a commentary on our hectic lifestyle than as a serious science fictional premise. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The only difference between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man knows he's playing. --Fritz PerisTweet
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