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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/08/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 50, Whole Number 1705
Table of Contents
The Law of Homogenous Series (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw a trailer for PROMETHEUS, the prequel to ALIEN, and it looked a lot to me like an ALIEN sort of film. Thinking about it though I guess that that is pretty much what it would have to be. I mean if Ridley Scott is going make a prequel to ALIEN, it will not be a romantic comedy set in space a mining colony. [-mrl]
My Minority Opinion of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I was young I would watch the TV show "The Adventures of Robin Hood", a weekly British TV show starring Richard Greene as Robin. I was fairly fond of it, so it was with some trepidation that I watched some of the programs recently. I was pleasantly surprised that except for the over-use of minstrel songs the production values were quite high. (Incidentally, the use of minstrel music is easily forgivable since most of the story of Robin Hood evolved in songs of minstrels going back to the time of Robin Hood. Minstrel songs arguably are inextricably linked with Robin Hood.)
Recently when Turner Classic Movies had a twelve-hour spate of Robin Hood movies, I wrote that I do not recommend any of the films as being particularly good in itself, but they were interesting as a bunch. One of my readers thought I was not being entirely fair to the 1938 film THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (the one starring Errol Flynn). I admitted that it gets almost universally high ratings so it is one of the (many) films for which I have a minority viewpoint. And I can imagine that in Depression days it might have been a real spirit raiser. I don't even mind some anachronism. That practice goes back at least as far as Mallory's MORTE D' ARTHUR or even THE ILIAD.
But going back to the original minstrel songs ROBIN HOOD has been sort of a dark story. The tale of Robin and his outlaws was sort of a glimmer of hope in what was in part a very troubled time. And even if it were not so troubled, the story of Robin would be. Somehow the 1938 film is just too merry to be Robin Hood. We see in the film it is full of men with boisterous high spirits, acrobatics with horses, Una O'Connor (a personal distaste of mine--though she is more restrained here than James Whale would have had her be), fat jokes at Friar Tuck's expense, Tarzan vine swings in a northern forest, Robin Hood's forest banquet with huge volumes of food just a minute's walk from starving peasants not invited to join in, deep belly laughs from the likes of Alan Hale, Errol Flynn athletic stunts that never muss his long, naturally wavy hair, and Maid Marion with perfect 20th century makeup. The clothing is in bright colors to fully exercise the Technicolor but with no period feel. I love it that King Richard and his entourage say they are trying not to attract attention and each is wearing a different-colored neon- bright cloak. Somehow everything is just a little more merry than I like to think it was or would have been.
Then there is the scene of Robin's first confrontation when he is sitting in the big wooden chair and is attacked. He tips the chair, which has a spear right through it, backward so he has his back on the floor at best no more than an inch from the spear point, but his feet are off the floor and the seat of the chair is preventing him from getting his feet down for support. I was curious how he would get out of this highly vulnerable position. Probably the fastest way is to roll the chair on its side and then get to his feet. What does he do? We never find out. The camera cuts away and when it comes back he is on his feet fighting. But it seems a foolish tactical move.
I am not saying that if the film shows any joy in 12th century life the filmmaker has gotten it wrong. People caught up in some of the most ugly situations in history were able to keep their senses of humor. But the feeling one gets from this film is that for Robin and his men it is one long party of fun, lying in trees and stealing an occasional purse. That is not a realistic view of the period either. In fact the widespread misery is probably closer to the truth.
Now I will admit that I accept this sort of antics from Douglas Fairbanks who played Robin Hood as well as Zorro, the Thief of Bagdad, and the Black Pirate all in similar lighthearted fashion, but that was in silent film. Somehow for me silent film plays by different rules. I don't remember seeing any other film with Robin Hood as a character playing it so light and frivolous.
As a final note it is a little hard to see Richard the Lion-Heart and realize it is the same man who Anthony Hopkins played in THE LION IN WINTER. Somehow with playwright James Goldman's description he did not come off quite so noble. I guess the film just does not work for me. [-mrl]
Cataloging One's Books (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Back in 1971 or so, I gave Mark a Hanukkah present of a catalog of his science fiction books. This was relatively easy--first I alphabetized the books (which were being stored in my basement), then I typed up an index card for each author listing all the books by that author. At the time he had maybe 1500 books, so the pack of cards was manageable.
Time passed. New acquisitions got additional lines on a card (albeit now out of alphabetical order with other titles) or new cards. What used to fit into one card box now took two, then three. This was too much to carry conveniently, but about this time we were able to transfer this to 80-column cards (manually key-punched, of course), each with author, title, series number (if any), and cost. These fields were fixed length--any author's name with more than 28 characters was brutally truncated. Ditto for titles that had more than 40 characters. The cards took up more space, but one could generate printouts every few months and put those in binder(s). This worked for another ten years, then we were able to store the information in memory (which also let us switch to upper- *and* lower-case). But the printouts were still too unwieldy to carry to bookstores.
So we resorted to what I called the "Hebrew" method. I wrote a program that removed from the catalog the series and cost information, along with all spaces, all punctuation, all lower-case vowels, and all "common" prepositions and articles. (That last one played havoc with Alan Dean Foster's "Into the Out Of"!) So the first few Poul Anderson entries looked something like:
I then printed this in tiny font, four pages to a sheet, then trimmed it to a pack about 2.5"x5"x1" thick. It was bizarre- looking, but it was (usually) sufficient to check if we had a particular book or not.
It was a glorious day when palmtops arrived. It finally became possible to put the actual, original catalog on something portable that we carried around all the time.
Of course, right about this time we started having different problems in cataloging. Up until now, the question was pretty much whether a book was hardback, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback, and these were easily indicated by a special character for each. (We will omit for now Galaxy Magabooks and Ace Doubles, the bane of every catalogers existence.) But when electronics got common, things got complicated.
Currently we have books in hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, 3.5" diskette, CD-ROM, and on disk, as well as audiobooks on cassette, CD, CD-ROM, and MP3 on hard disk. The books in electronic form are variously in .txt, .doc, .rtf, .pdf, .epub, .mobi, and who knows what else. Even more complicated, every once in a while, various items on disk are transferred to external hard drives or CD-ROMs to free up space, so we have to keep track of where everything currently is.
And Mark just got a Kindle. This is not going to simplify our lives, at least in terms of cataloging. We don't just want to know if we own a book, we want to know where it is, and whether it's paper, audio, or electronic. If it's audio, we need to know the format--an MP3 is easy to take on a vacation, a cassette not as much. If it's electronic, is it on the computer hard drive, or an external hard drive, or a CD-ROM, or the Kindle?
I expect things will get more complicated. What about electronic books stored "in the cloud"? E.g., if we buy a book from Amazon and do not currently have it on a device we own, but stored in our account there, how does one catalog it, and is that different from having access to books in Project Gutenberg? (Well, it must be different, because I am not going to add all of Project Gutenberg to our catalog!) [-ecl]
EXTRATERRESTRIAL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: EXTRATERRESTRIAL is an amiable romantic comedy with a science fiction premise. Nacho Vigalondo follows up his TIMECRIMES (LOS CRONOCRIMENES) with a lighter touch, neither as taxing nor as rewarding as his previous film. Waking up with a hangover, Julian Villagran as Julio realizes he does not know the woman he has been sleeping with. He also slept through the coming of a giant alien spaceship hovering over his city. The film is done on a small budget with minimal special effects and not even much action. The Spanish film is amusing, but Vigalondo will have a hard time surpassing TIMECRIMES, and he is not near to doing that here. Fans of romantic comedy may better appreciate EXTRATERRESTRIAL than will science fiction aficionados. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Nacho Vigalondo's first feature film to both write and direct was the Spanish film TIMECRIMES, a clever time travel film with complexities to rival the time travel paradox stories of Robert Heinlein and David Gerrold. The good news is that Vigalondo's second full-length film that he writes and directs is another science fiction film. The bad news is that EXTRATERRESTRIAL really does not rank with TIMECRIMES. This is a story whose plot is occasionally driven by the science fiction (one idea really), but it is not about that idea. And no twists are presented as intelligently or as engrossingly as they were is his previous film. Yes, it is good that it is a human comedy, not unlike what we might get from Pedro Almadovar, but there are many of those. This is not nearly the intriguing puzzle for the intellect that TIMECRIMES was. That was where his work stood out as being really individual. Vigalondo is not playing to strengths that made his first film strong.
One would expect that if the world as we know it were to come to an end, most of us would be aware of the fact. But Julia (played by Michelle Jenner) and Julio (Julian Villagran) had been partying the night before and apparently had come to Julia's apartment to cap off the evening in bed together. Neither of them really remembers each other, but they know they must have hit it off. Now they awake to be nearly alone in their city. There is nobody in the street below the window. And above them is a silent hovering spacecraft the size of a city. It is like something out of DISTRICT 9 or INDEPENDENCE DAY. What are the intentions of the aliens? Will they be hostile? If so what will be their strategy? What can Earth people expect?
Now this should be enough to worry about, but then Carlos (Raul Cimas) shows up to protect Julia. Carlos has been Julia's on- again-off-again lover for years. He seems oddly willing to accept the story that Julia just invited Julio to her apartment when she saw him collapsed in the street. Then Angel (Miguel Noguera) who lives next door also arrives and tries to play off Carlos and Julio against each other in the hopes that he will get a chance with Julia. The three men vie for Julia's intentions, semi-oblivious to the mass invasion of alien ships--thirty over Spain alone. But the alien presence hangs over everything they do literally as well as figuratively. Eventually current events begin to take their toll on the proceedings.
For much of the film, EXTRATERRESTRIAL seems a mash-up of ideas from stories from Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" mixed with romantic comedy. Vigalondo knows how to get the most from a Euro when he is making a film. He has no big effects budget, but he can tell a science fiction story without using expensive visual effects. ESTRATERRESTRIAL is not really about the science fiction content. The premise only drives the playful comedy aspects. There is sexuality in the story, but nothing that is explicit or gross the way an American film might be now. It is a film written for an adult audience that does not pander to an "adult" audience. I rate EXTRATERRESTRIAL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1680133/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/extraterrestrial_2012/
DEADLINE by Mira Grant (copyright 2011, Orbit, $9.99, 608pp, ISBN 978-0-316-08106-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
You know, this could become a lovely habit. What's that, you ask? Well, this is the second year in a row that I've actually been enjoying reading the Hugo-nominated novels. As I've stated many times in the past, a lot of the nominees are not books that I would normally read, but every once in a while I get surprised. Last year's FEED, the predecessor to DEADLINE, was one of those that surprised me enough that I wanted to read DEADLINE whether or not it was nominated this year. So, I happily swiped it back from my daughter when she got back from college and jumped right in.
The story begins not long after the end of FEED. Shaun Mason, brother of the deceased Georgia Mason - who if you remember ended up being shot by Shaun as she turned into a zombie after she was targeted by Governor Tate and his cronies - is now the nominal leader of the newsblogging site "After the End Times". It is a position he does not want. He is still devastated not only by the death of his sister, but by the fact that he is the one that pulled the trigger to put her out of her misery. To make matters worse, "George" still talks to Shaun in his head. Shaun, and the rest of his staff, has come to terms with this issue, but it is particularly unclear whether Shaun is crazy or there is something else going on here.
Shaun was an Irwin - one of those folks that goes out into the field picking on zombies, riling them up for fun, ratings, and profit. Shaun doesn't do that any more--the loss of his sister has taken the zest away. But then things change, and that's when the story gets rolling.
Dr. Kelly Connolly, a researcher from the Memphis office of the Centers for Disease Control, has come to his office in Oakland to see Shaun and the team. She faked her own death at the CDC with the aid of clone to bring the team data regarding the Kellis- Amberlee virus that points to some very interesting and disturbing trends. The data dealt with what is known as a "reservoir condition", a condition in which a person has an obvious case of the virus and should have amplified, but did not. George was one of those, as the reservoir of the virus was around her eyes. It seems that certain researchers were looking at the data and coming to very uncomfortable conclusions. Those researchers were either leaving the CDC or, mostly, dying. Kelly faked her own death to get out of the CDC with the data so that the information could be studied and verified.
And what the data revealed was something very frightening indeed. What was worse was that at about the time the team was reviewing that data, a zombie outbreak occurs in Oakland, right in the area of the office of After the End Times. The team barely gets out in time, but the cost is one member of their team. Thus begins a mad dash around the country that results in the team discovering that there is a very large and widespread conspiracy in the works regarding the virus. It's not exactly clear how big it is, but suffice it to say that the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
This is *very clearly* the second book in a trilogy--you'd be able to tell even if you didn't know that it was. The book advances the story along, but really never definitively settles anything at all. And that's my only knock against the book, and yet, it may be what makes it strong. FEED ended with the reader having a face to point at for the bad guy. While the reader never really knew who was behind it all, at least there was *someone*. With DEADLINE, there isn't - not at all. We're just left with this feeling that things are going to get much much worse before they get better. And as in FEED, Grant leaves us with a bit of a shocker at the end. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
This is a good book. Once again, I don't think it's going to win the Hugo, but it's a worthy entry on the shortlist. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
BRANDWASHED by Martin Lindstrom (ISBN 978-0-385-53173-3) is an updating of Vance Packard's THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS. But to some extent Lindstrom has made his job difficult by being unclear about what he is criticizing. If indeed it is the use of brands, then he has interpreted this so widely as to made the term meaningless.
"I decided that I would not buy any new brands for one solid year [but] I would allow myself to continue to use the possessions I already owned.... Under the terms of my detox, I wasn't even allowed to buy a book, a magazine, or a newspaper (yes, I think of all these as brands that tell the world who you are or, in some cases, would like to be perceived as being), and let me tell you, those fourteen-hour transatlantic flights get pretty boring with nothing to read."
Well, he seems to be saying that he didn't actually own any books when this started. And while I understand that a publisher might constitute a brand, I am not sure how a used copy of an old book from a defunct publisher would count as a brand. Lindstrom allowed himself to buy generic orange juice, or an apple, but those also tell the world something about who he is or wants to be perceived as being. Indeed, any choice does that.
(For that matter, has he never heard of public libraries? His rules said he could not buy a book, but one does not buy books from the library, just borrows them.)
And that apple he bought--was it a Granny Smith, or a Gala, or a Fuji? Those are all brands in the sense that they were developed to be marketed a certain way--as sweeter than others, or tarter, or juicier, or *something* that distinguishes them. He wouldn't buy a meal in a restaurant if it came with Adirondack tomatoes, but apparently this did not extend to apples.
Lindstrom also claims that "jars and containers are deliberately engineered so that when we unscrew [them] at home, we'll hear that comforting "smack" sound, further reassurance that what we've bought is fresh, clean, and safe--never mind that the smacking sound was created and patented in a sound lab to manipulate us into believing that the marmalade [his example] was flown in from Edinburgh just this morning." He does not seem to know that the sound comes from releasing the vacuum seal, or noticing that an unopened jar of (say) spaghetti sauce can sit on the shelf for months with no problem, but once opened (unsealed), will go bad fairly quickly.
Certainly one of Lindstrom's more controversial claims is that one of the tools companies use to sell their product is religion. The example he gives is halal certification; he notes that a Muslim told him that "to make up for his lack of devoutness he'd begun buying more and more halal-certified brands". What these brands are selling, Lindstrom says, is "purity, spirituality, faith, virtue, and in some cases atonement". One can, I suppose, make this argument, but what is interesting is his choice of halal rather than kosher. In the United States, anyway, the notion of "kosher" would be much more familiar to his readers, and one wonders if Lindstrom thought it less likely to attract criticism if he described halal certification as a marketing ploy than if he applied that description to kosher certification. (It could also be that kosher certification is much more widespread, so Lindstrom may not consider it as distinguishing.)
For some reason I was recently reminded of a Greg Egan story, "Fidelity". The premise is that there is a new procedure that will freeze your emotions. Couples who are in love have the procedure done to make sure they will always be in love. A woman wants to have the procedure, but her husband is not as eager. He's just a little bit uncertain about whether he is completely in love with her. But she convinces him to do it, and when they leave after the procedure, all he can think is, "It can't--it truly *can't*--get better than this."
I thought of this story when I saw the film S1M0NE (about a producer/director who produces a digital star for his next film). As I said in my mini-review of S1M0NE, "Though he starts by wishing that ... as a director could have complete creative control over his films, there is a great scene when he realizes that this comes with a price: he will never get less than he wants, but he can never get more than he already has either."
I must admit I mis-remembered a couple of details of the Egan story. For example, I thought it was in ANALOG, while it was in ASIMOV'S. (I also did not remember the title or the author--thanks are due to Joseph Nebus for answering my query on rec.arts.sf.written.)
As for Egan's story being in ASIMOV'S rather than ANALOG, I think that is an understandable error on my part. Egan is considered one of the "diamond-hard" science fiction writers, yet according to his bibliography page, he has had only one story appear in ANALOG ("Beyond the Whistle Test", 1989) while he has had about fifteen or sixteen in ASIMOV'S. Somehow it seems like it should be vice versa. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Although we, the French, love the United States, our respect and admiration are not based on gastronomy nor on nutrition. --Michel MontignacTweet
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