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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/29/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 53, Whole Number 1708
Table of Contents
We apologize for the delay in last week's MT VOID. It was sent out on Friday morning, but not processed through Yahoo Groups until Monday. [-ecl]
Dark Roasted Blend: Rare & Wonderful 1950s Space Art:
A site called "Dark Roasted Blend" has a nice collection of 1950s space art at
You might also want to check out their many galleries of science fiction art at
http://www.scifi.darkroastedblend.com/and futuristic art at
And while you're at it, see
http://tinyurl.com/void-movie-pulpfor classic science fiction movies done as pulp covers.
When Curiosity Meets terror: NASA Nail-Biter (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
At 7:30 PM Sunday, August 5, the Mars Rover "Curiosity" will face its "seven minutes of terror" trying to land totally autonomously on the planet Mars. I find this impressive. There is just enough atmosphere to cause serious trouble, but not enough to help the landing.
Science: It's a Girl Thing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Presented without comment:
The truth is, I am speechless. [-mrl]
Double Whammy: Micronite Filters (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I found this of some interest:
Kent is a brand of cigarettes. Kent's Micronite filter was introduced shortly after the publication of a series of articles in "Reader's Digest" in 1952 entitled "Cancer by the Carton", that scared American consumers into seeking out a filter brand at a time when most brands were filterless. (Viceroy cigarettes had been the first to introduce filters, in 1936.)
From March 1952 until at least May 1956, however, the Micronite filter in Kent cigarettes contained carcinogenic blue asbestos.
Test Tube Meat Follow-Up (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As a follow-up to the article in the 03/09/12 issue of the MT VOID about a project at Maastricht University in the Netherlands to grow meat in a vat from a cow's stem cells, we can report that a scientist in California is trying to develop a synthetic meat. See http://tinyurl.com/void-fake-meat, though the details are a little skimpy.
Alas, this article, while talking about the history of the idea of test tube meat, does not mention Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's "Chicken Little". [-ecl]
Fortuitous Typo (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week while typing I made a typo and almost recommended THE STEAMPINK BIBLE. Now I want someone to write it. [-ecl]
Should HUGO be on the Hugo Ballot (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn used to tell me that whatever the voters decide is in a category really is in that category. The film THE RIGHT STUFF was nominated for a Hugo. HUGO is based in part on reality, but it exaggerates to the borders of fantasy repeatedly. Does it cross those borders? Nobody carved out an existence inside the clockwork of the Paris train station. The historical personage was not a super-genius with the talent to do what he did and also to build automata.
Enough people thought HUGO had fantasy elements enough that it is on the Hugo ballot. I wonder if the title somehow subconsciously influenced them. [-mrl]
[As you can see by my comments last week on categories, I now think there have to be at least some rules for which category things go in. -ecl]
It is time for my recommendations for (somewhat) obscure films in the upcoming month on Turner Classic Movies. Each month I try to give people a heads up if there are unusual films coming up on TCM. All times are EST; so if you live in other parts of the country, please remember to adjust. And remember I have no connection to TCM. I am just a classic film fan.
A CHUMP AT OXFORD plays on Wednesday, July 18 at 8:00 AM. Somehow the golden age of comedy teams was from the 1930s to the 1950s. Most of the classic two-person comedy teams were made up of a zany and a straight man. And the straight man for some reason got top billing. Look at Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, and Burns and Allen. Laurel and Hardy were unusual in that each was a funny man. (It is also unusual because neither team member was Jewish.) Almost any Laurel and Hardy film pre-WW-II is hilarious. I can think of actors of any kind who made the transition from silent films to sound as gracefully as these two men. For my money Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers were the best comedy teams from the golden age. In A CHUMP AT OXFORD the two are improbably given an all expenses paid scholarship to Britain's leading college because they had caught a bank robber.
There is another reason why their 1940 A CHUMP AT OXFORD is of special interest to film buffs. It included two bit players who were to become great screen villains. In the plot Laurel and Hardy go to Oxford and are not treated well by the students there. Two of the students should look familiar. Charles Middleton is one. In 1940 Middleton was in this film, in GRAPES OF WRATH and for the third time he was playing Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials. And another Oxford scholar in the film in a more visible role is a very young Peter Cushing. There is no room here to list all his screen villains Cushing played, but as a snobbish student, one of several, this is probably his first screen role as a sort of villain. A CHUMP AT OXFORD is just barely feature length at 63 minutes, but for Laurel, Hardy, Cushing, and Middleton the film is worth a watching.
Just a little earlier Wednesday, July 18 at 4:30 AM, TCM will show THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS. I would judge the film to be more a good dark melodrama than a real horror film. After a promising start with DOCTOR X and MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM, Warner Brothers seemed to shy away from horror and science fiction into the 60s at the least. What little they did make were generally good science fiction an horror films but they were also rare--HOUSE OF WAX, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, THEM! for example. Warner would try to make their horror film THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS in the style of other films they were making. It is an unusual mixture but not at all a bad one. Peter Lorre had been in some horror roles before this 1943 film, but Warner had usually put him in character roles like those in THREE STRANGERS, CASABLANCA, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, and THE MALTESE FALCON. This film has an unmistakable Warner Brothers air to it. But the overall effect is not so much horrific as just dark and macabre. I believe it was the first film to show dismembered body parts come to life with minds of their own. The living hand has been often imitated in other films. Among those films are THE HAND, DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and of course who can forget Thing in "The Addams Family," film and TV show. Melodrama or horror film, this is a great film and deserves to be considered a classic. One person I recommended this film to decided not to see it because it was in (gasp!) black and white. It would be a shame not to see BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS because it is in monochrome.
I do not know what my friend would make of my next recommendation. I would say that nobody can really be considered a film buff if they have not seen the great silent films. If you want to get interested in silent films, I would recommend, of course, NOSFERATU, METROPOLIS, and some of the films of Douglas Fairbanks. See the latter if horror and science fiction are not your thing. Fairbanks made some great adventure films. I would certainly recommend his THE MARK OF ZORRO (sorry, not on this month) or perhaps his ROBIN HOOD, and barring that you should see THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. Now two different versions of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD are playing this month. The more commonly seen is the 1940 version with Sabu and yet another great screen villain, Conrad Veidt. (Catch it Sunday, July 15, 8:00 PM.) If you can get this one in high-definition color, the TCM version is just a beautiful film. It is an entirely different film with full restored color. But I digress. What I recommend you try is the 1924 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD with Douglas Fairbanks, the screen's first action hero. If you can imagine how it would have looked in 1924, so much the better. A carefree Fairbanks rides a flying carpet, braves caves of fire, faces dinosaur-like monsters, fights a nasty-looking sea spider, climbs a statue perhaps a hundred feet high, and does some impressive acrobatics all along the way. The special effects are a little hokey 88 years later, but go with them. They are actually a lot of the fun. It may convince you to see more silent films. It runs at 3:45 AM on Monday, July 17.
Of course if you want to go back even further to the real roots of the special effects films TCM will be showing two hours of films by the great Georges Melies. If you saw the Martin Scorsese film HUGO you know who Melies is (assuming you did not know already). Melies comes as close as anyone to being the inventor of screen special effects. TCM will show sixteen short films by Melies including, of course, his most famous films "A Trip to the Moon" and "The Conquest of the Pole," both with monsters. It will run Sunday July 15 at 12:00 AM.
By the way, if you like the sepulchral melody in BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, that is the Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D minor.
More Problems with E-books (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the 06/24/11 issue of the MT VOID, I was writing about streaming and downloadable content and said:
"But what about buying a downloadable copy? This is possible through amazon.com and other vendors. But amazon.com has not had a perfect record in making this permanently available. (See http://tinyurl.com/void-1984). And whatever downloadable content you buy is yours only as long as the vendor is in business. This may seem like a sure thing with a company like amazon.com, but it wouldn't be the first time a stable company has gone under. (And again, you are also relying on the network being up, since unlike with books on the Kindle, you are probably not storing a local copy of the film.)"
I should note that even downloading did not prevent the 1984 fiasco. In any case, people are telling me that amazon.com has learned from that, etc.--but is that true?
Last September, the following headline appeared: "E-book errors in Neal Stephenson's REAMDE annoy Kindle users". More specifically, it says, "A 'missing content' warning on a Kindle e-book angered users who wanted to keep reading--but couldn't be sure what they had already missed." Another person wrote, "As it turns out, most of the fixes were relatively minor. But users were not provided with that information up-front. They had to blindly make a choice to either lose all their accumulated bookmarks and annotations when switching to the new version, or keep a potentially fatally flawed copy."
So far as I could tell, this was an optional replacement but, as with the 1984 deletion, replacing the book "wiped out any highlights, bookmarks, or notes that readers had already made." And since amazon.com would not say what was missing or different, readers had no way to judge whether it was worth doing the replacement and losing all this or not.
I will admit that it is not clear how this is different from a flawed hard-copy of a book, except that one does not hear very often about the latter. Is it that formatting errors and such are easier to create in an e-book (one presumably proofreads it from a typeset copy, but that cannot guarantee that the electronic copy will display correctly), or is it that the publisher does not have as stringent a proofreading process for electronic books (perhaps on the theory that there is much less cost to replacing electronic copies than pulping all the bad copies and printing new ones)? [-ecl]
AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton (copyright 2011, Tor, $14.99, 302pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-3172-4) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
One of two fantasy nominees in this year's Hugo race (and no, I don't think DEADLINE is fantasy; your mileage may vary), Jo Walton's AMONG OTHERS is one of the best fantasy novels that I've read in years. While most of you may say, "Hey, Joe, you don't read fantasy novels," you're right, as a rule. My recent fantasy reading in the last decade or so has been made up of LORD OF THE RINGS, the "Harry Potter" novels, and the latest entries in the "Thomas Covenant" series. AMONG OTHERS is better than Potter and Covenant. Not much fantasy is better than Lord of the Rings. In my opinion.
Morwenna Phillips, or Mor, grew up with her twin sister in Wales. Her mother is a witch, her father is not living with them. Mor and her sister see and play with fairies--mystical creatures that sometimes, but more often than not, take the shape of humans. The fairies live in the industrial ruins of the area. She is also a science fiction fan. She has read many of the classics, and they are her escape from the realities of dealing with life.
After a brief introduction to Mor, her sister, and fairies, the story picks up after the event that sets the narrative in motion. Mor and her sister have had a magical battle with their evil mother. Mom tried to use her magical powers for dark purposes, and Mor and her sister battled to stop her. The children prevailed, but Mor's sister was killed. Mor runs away from home to her aunts and father, and eventually ends up in a boarding school. She barely knows her father, and she really doesn't like her aunts at all.
She is put in the boarding school so that the aunts "can get rid of her". She is an outcast at school, made fun of because of her accent and the injury to her leg, which she sustained in the battle with her mother.
Her relationship with her father is an uneasy one at first, and it's not entirely clear from the novel just how much more comfortable they became with each other after their first few tentative meetings. One thing that helps the two click is their mutual love of science fiction. He approves of her reading it, lends her books, and gives her money so she can buy more of her own. She also discovers that there is a science fiction book discussion group held every Tuesday evening in the library in the local town, which she gets permission to attend. There she meets like minded people, and learns of the greater world of the genre, including fandom and conventions.
And so the story goes, chronicling Mor's path to acceptance and growing up: her budding relationship with a boy she meets at the discussion group, her changing relationship with the adults in her life, and the decisions she makes about how to deal with life and the people around her.
Oh yes, there is a meeting with her mother that serves as the climax to the story. We'll get to that in a minute.
This book really tears at the heartstrings. If you haven't figured it out by now, this sure seems like the path so many of us who are fans have taken to get where we are today with the genre and our lives in general. I was taken back to fond memories of the first time I encountered the novels that Mor read in her teen years. Many of us probably took the same path she does in this novel. That said, it almost seems cheating, pulling at our hearts this way, taking us back to what was probably a simpler time in our lives, when everything was a discovery and the whole world was ahead of us.
****MILD SPOILER AHEAD****
The problem I personally had with the novel was its lack of conflict and plot. Yes, I know, there were conflicts with her classmates, her aunts, and especially her mother, but we never see her mother until the end of the novel. The confrontation with her mother seems forced. It's almost as if Walton were saying, "Okay, we've followed Mor enough, time to end this," after which she put the confrontation with Mor's mother in there to represent another decision point in Mor's life, rather than settle a score that needed to be settled. I found the ending weak and unsatisfying.
***END SPOILER ALERT****
So, another good, but not great, Hugo nominee this year. On to LEVIATHAN WAKES. [-jak]
JAR JAR BINKS MUST DIE ... AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES by Daniel M. Kimmel (copyright 2011, Fantastic Books, $9.99 Kindle edition) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, one of the problems of reading two books at once is that, in my case, neither gets read quickly. Or, more correctly, both get read more slowly. Such is the case with Jo Walton's AMONG OTHERS and Dan Kimmel's JAR JAR BINKS MUST DIE ... AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES. I finished them at roughly the same time, and as a result both reviews are coming later than I'd like. This really just teaches me that I shouldn't be reading two books at the same time. It really just doesn't work for me.
But I really digress.
Every year as I read for the Hugos, I strive to read material other than the novels. My intent is to read the short fiction categories as well (and I should be able to do that this year), but I usually run out of time. However, as I scanned the list of Best Related Works and saw the title of Kimmel's book, I *knew* I had to read it. If the intent was to grab the reader with the title, it attacked me by the throat, pulled me in, and said, "Read me, buddy".
Yes, I'm a Star Wars fan. I saw the original in the theaters when it was released back in 1977, the month I graduated from high school. I've seen all the movies in the theaters as they were released, and in the case of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI, I saw the midnight shows. I, as with many other Star Wars fans, cringed at Jar Jar Binks, and wanted him gone. So, the title of the book pulled me in.
But of course the book is much more than that. It's a look at science fiction movies throughout history, going back to the 1920s with METROPOLIS, and continuing through what Kimmel calls the modern classic era. It is a wonderful collection of essays that looks at science fiction movies as they relate to our culture, our society, and mainstream filmmaking. It talks about time travel; the relationship between movies of the 1950s and 1960s and our country's fear of communism; the mistrust of science and scientists through various eras; remakes; aliens; and a wealth of other subjects that present science fiction movies in a light that the reader may not have thought of before.
But it's not just essays on various movies and types of movies. It's a dissertation on why science fiction movies are important, why they are relevant to our society, and indeed why they are just "as worthy as any other kind of film for serious discussion", a quote taken from the first page of the book. The battle that science fiction films face, and indeed science fiction literature faces, is the perception by the mainstream critics and those "in the know", that if the movie is good, it must not be science fiction--even if it has all the tropes and trappings of science fiction. If it's not, well, it's science fiction, of course it's bad. An exception is made for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but the generalization is the rule that Kimmel explores in depth in the book.
The really cool thing here is that Kimmel is "one of us". He's a Boston film critic who just happens to be a science fiction fan who attends conventions with some regularity. I would imagine he's seen both sides of this ongoing discussion, and he's there to defend the faith, bringing a different viewpoint to the debate, which he says at the end of the book, "is over. We won."
This is a terrific book. It has me wanting to go back and rent some of the movies that I haven't seen before. Kimmel also made me look at a lot of movies in a different light, ways that I would never think of looking at them. As I go forward through my movie going "career", I hope I can look at movies differently now.
This is highly recommended reading. Go for it. And yes, kill off Jar Jar Binks. [-jak]
Another Kind (of Superhuman) (book and film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Another Kind (of Superhuman), covering:
I've written a number of articles on THE MENTALIST, exploring the idea that Patrick Jane is a kind of superman, not one with a telepathy or telekinesis, but one who is simply a human far out on the bell curve of what humans can be. Patrick Jane may be arrogant and ruthless, but he is prey to the same fears and concerns as the rest of us. Recently I watched the movie HANNA, and this inspired me to write a group review of the movie along with two books sharing similar themes and ideas.
Hanna (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl who lives with her father (played by Eric Bana) in a cabin in some remote northern wilderness. Her days are filled with relentless training exercises--hunting, fighting, shooting, languages, memorization, and so on. Her father displays superior fighting abilities, and constantly presses her hard, warning her that this or that mistake will be her death. One day he shows her an electronic box, and tells her that all she needs to do, when she is ready, is press a button, and a signal will be sent calling Marissa Wiegler (played by Cate Blanchett). He tells her that once Marissa arrives, she must kill Wiegler or Wiegler will kill her. Eventually she presses the switch and the chase begins.
The details of the plot are not especially critical, although the movie is fun to watch. Hanna proves to be an excellent operative-- strong, possessing vast endurance, a high pain threshold, ruthless initiative, and vast skill with any weapon she can lay her hands on. She displays a sort of sunny innocence thru it all, even to the final moment as she shoots the wounded and helpless Wiegler. Thinking back on the film I realized that she had repeatedly left behind people to die or be tortured with no apparent concern, including her "father", who turns out to be instead a turncoat CIA agent who developed moral qualms about killing her.
This is highly consistent with explanation her "father" provides near the end of the movie that she is the product of a secret CIA genetic engineering program to breed super-soldiers with superior strength, stamina, and reflexes but suppressed fear and empathy. As Wiegler says after Hanna's spectacular initial escape from her CIA captors, "She has exceeded our expectations." Wiegler has killed the other children created by the program, along with everyone else involved in it, apparently mainly to cover her tracks and not out of any moral concerns about the goals of the program.
Most critics find in HANNA a kind of Grimm's fairy tale about a young woman confronting modern life, but the film works perfectly well as a Campbellian or Heinleinian tale of super-humanity. The movie ends somewhat ambiguously, with Hanna wounded but armed and functional, and with no clarity as to how the CIA will react to the rather long trail of bodies, including Wiegler's, that have piled up at this point. It is easy to imagine the wounded Hanna eluding what will now be a rather after the fact search led by people who literally have no idea what they are dealing with. What she will chose to do with her abilities and genome is a blank slate, as she lacks any ideological or personal motives beyond survival.
GEMINI MAN by Richard Steinberg was written in 1998, but I read it in 2011. The story concerns a government program for finding and training ruthless super-agents. One of them has been captured by the Russians and interrogated for a number of years. Finally, he is released via a prisoner exchange. The CIA is surprised to find that the Russians are quite reluctant to let him go, and feel that he should be executed immediately. In addition to having caused vast devastation inside Russia, he has killed and tortured so many people in a number of escape attempts that the Russians, to put it mildly, are pissed.
A team of psychologists assembles to examine the agent, one Brian Newman, and determine whether he is fit to return to action. It should come as no surprise that this operation does not turn out well for the psychologists, who are out-thought and overwhelmed by Newman, who eventually escapes. Although Newman carries out various acts of revenge against his tormenters, he is eventually killed. His story resembles in many ways that of the Group C superman Conrad in George Turner's BRAINCHILD. He is superior in every way to his pursers, but as one man alone, he ultimately has no chance to survive or to turn the tables against them.
The "secret" Newman has found which eludes his pursers, with the exception of one of them who turns out to be a superman similar to Newman, is that the CIA, by seeking out super-smart sociopaths and training them as operatives, have inadvertently found what may be the next stage in human evolution. Newman is utterly rational and psychologically balanced, but completely ruthless and sociopathic at the same time. He does not experience stress in the same way as normal humans, which makes him an ideal operative--patient and intelligent but ready to spring into calculated action at the right moment.
Needless to say, there is a high degree of overlap between the visions of super-humanity in HANNA and GEMINI man. The general thread here is that super-humanity may be a state of mind more than better senses or stronger muscles. Sometimes technology is used to provide this effect as with the drug Reaper in Richard Morgan's ALTERED CARBON series, or with the Veil in Bruce Sterling's SPOOK. It has long been noted that normal humans are capable of super- human actions while in the right mental state. The example I like to cite is that of a couple that was camping when Mount St. Helens erupted. They found themselves on the lava flow side of a flooded river choked with logs, and one of them had a broken led. Faced with certain death from the lava flow, they ran *across the logs* to safety. I am fairly certain that under normal circumstances they could not have gotten more than a little way across such an obstacle, even without the broken leg.
TH1RTE3N by Richard K. Morgan (2007) deals with Carl Marsalis, one of a few genetically engineered super-soldiers who is not confined to a reservation or exiled to Mars. He is pressed into action to capture a renegade Thirteen who has escaped from Mars. The title springs from the idea that the thirteenth chromosome has been modified to create these super-soldiers. The plot of TH1RTE3N is not especially interesting--I stopped reading on page 349. However, the *idea* of how Carl was created is brilliant, and may even be the full truth of things.
The idea is this--in the beginning, men were more aggressive, less tamed, more randy. Think of the stereotyped lead hunter in a tribe of mammoth hunters, for example. However, once agriculture was invented, most men [and women] needed to toil in the fields. Anyone who talked back was a disruptive element, and probably got eliminated with extreme prejudice by the local warlord. After a few thousand years of agriculture, in effect, humans were tamed. Recent experiments show that wild foxes can be bred to be as tame as dogs in only a few generations, so this idea seems quite plausible.
To create Carl, genetic science was used, not to create a new man, but an *old man*--the kind of man that existed, say, 15,000 years ago. Of course, there is an obvious problem with such a "super" man--he really does not want to take orders!
So here we have two variants on the vision of super-humanity, the super-strong and fast but fearless and pitiless HANNA [or Brian Newman] and the all too emotional but equally strong and fast Thirteen. Since we have been reviewing examples of apparently superhuman spies who lack "super powers" such as those displayed by the characters in THE CHAMPIONS, I thought we might take a look back at Sidney Bristow in ALIAS. Sidney is a vastly superior athlete and fighter, speaks at least 29 languages fluently, has a genius level IQ, and is enormously creative tactically. Although not in any way emotionless, she is astronaut-cool under fire. The sources of these abilities are three fold. First, her father and mother are most probably the best field operatives the CIA and the KGB ever had. He father, in addition to be being utterly ruthless and effective in dealing out death and torture, is unbreakable under interrogation as well as being a brilliant strategic thinker. Her mother is equally ruthless, committed, and daring, coupled with a wide variety of yogi-like skills that enable her to perform apparently super-human feats. Thus, it is safe to assume Sidney has pretty much the best genetic head start any agent will ever get.
Second, Sidney was trained in Project Christmas, her father's secret program for training super-agents as children. This means that she has deep muscle skills for things like weapons breakdown, shooting, etc. that no one trained using normal methods as an adult would ever display.
And thirdly, it is clear that Sidney always played an important role in the plans of Milo Rambaldi, a 15th century genius who minimally was the greatest genius of all time and who appears to have been capable of precognition. Since the plans of Rambaldi in ALIAS have always been and remain both complex and mysterious, it's hard to say anything about him or his plans for sure. However, it is certainly possible that he had some role in making Sidney what she was, although this is never explicitly called out during the series.
I would like to note that although I found TH1RTE3N less than engaging, under the name BLACK MAN it won the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award in England, so you may find it worth your while to read. GEMINI MAN is highly readable and more sophisticated than the average thriller--it reminds me quite a bit of George Turner. I rate HANNA a solid +1 thriller--perhaps too violent for some, but an interesting tale all the same. [-dls]
Ranking Robin Hoods (LiveJournal posting of comment by Bill Higgins):
In response to Mark's comments on THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD in the 06/08/12 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins has started a discussion on his LiveJournal page asking, "How would the several movie versions of Robin Hood be ranked by historical authenticity?" (One person replied, "I suspect the cartoon version, where Robin Hood was an anthropomorphic fox, may not have been entirely accurate.")
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I covered the Hugo nominees for Best Novella, Best Novel, and Best Related Work. This week I will cover Best Novelette and Best Short Story.
I have read "The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell (Asimov's 07/11) three times and when I am done, it is as if it has made no impression or sense whatsoever on my brain.
"Fields of Gold" by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four) is about the afterlife, but more about the messed-up characters who end up there. It is okay, but not much is done with the fantasy aspect except at the end, when you get a sort of wish-fulfillment deus ex machina.
"Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11) is definitely an "Analog" story--it has agenda written all over it. After aliens have somehow blocked off the sun, resulting in the entire Earth being covered in ice, a few thousand people remain in deep sea habitats near thermal vents. The people who still remember the old times used to go up every once in a while to check to see if something had changed and the ice had thawed, but they have stopped doing that. When their children hear this, they cannot believe their parents would stop trying. The whole thing is a thinly veiled critique of our attitude towards space exploration, and the science necessary to build these deep sea habitats on short notice seems completely unexplained.
"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com) is about two clairvoyants--with a twist. One sees "the" future, while the other sees a branching tree of futures. Needless to say, their relationship is affected--one might almost say controlled--by their differing world views. He sees the future as fixed, hence is a firm determinist, while she see a range of choices, hence believes in free will. It is, I suppose, a somewhat constrained form of free will, but then to some extent all free will is. (You cannot decide to call spirits from the vasty deep, or rather, you can decide to, and so can any man, but you cannot actually do it.)
A couple of sentences really seemed to encapsulate the hoarder in all of us: "Judy hoards items she might need in one of the futures she's witnessed, and they cover every surface. There's a plastic replica of a Filipino fast food mascot, Jollibee, which she might give to this one girl Sukey in a couple of years, completing Sukey's collection and making her a friend for life--or Judy and Sukey may never meet at all."
"What We Found" by Geoff Ryman (F&SF 09-10/11) has an interesting science fiction idea in it, but there is so much unrelated stuff around it that it seems almost an afterthought. It could be that the whole discussion of the narrator's family life in Nigeria ties into the idea, but if so, I missed it.
My ranking: "Six Months, Three Days", "Fields of Gold", no award, "Ray of Light", "What We Found", "The Copenhagen Interpretation"
Best Short Story
"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld) is okay, but I do not see why it got a Hugo nomination.
Reading "The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 04-05/11), I came to the realization that Mike Resnick and Connie Willis have something in common besides their perennial competition for the Hugo. They both write primarily stories in which they are the main character. I don't mean that Resnick has literally disowned a son who transformed his body into something alien, or that Willis has actually traveled back to plague-ridden medieval England. But the basic character and personality of the protagonist of a Willis story is that of Willis--female, academic, more likely to be found in a cathedral or a library than climbing Everest or rafting the Colorado. And most Resnick stories feature a somewhat acerbic older man trying to come to terms with ageing and technological change, and not likely to be writing poetry or discussing classic screwball comedies of the 1930s. (Heinlein, and undoubtedly others, did this as well. Robert Charles Wilson and China Mieville are two authors who come to mind who do *not* do this.) "The Homecoming" is no exception, and while well done, has a certain sameness with other recent Resnick works, and also a certain predictability.
"Movement" by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's 03/11) is a story about autism told from the point of view of the person with autism. This has been done before, most notably THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon in the mainstream world, and THE SPEED OF DARK by Elizabeth Moon in the science fiction one. (Not forgetting, of course, THINKING IN PICTURES by Temple Grandin in the non-fiction realm.) The problem, then, is that Fulda needs to bring something new to the table in her story--and she doesn't.
Like so many others this year, "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (F&SF 03-04/11) is a fantasy story that is more about the people's interactions and feelings than about the fantasy element. But Liu does not forget about the fantasy element or make it disposable the way some authors do, and the result is a well-balanced story.
Regarding "Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi (Tor.com), humor is an iffy proposition. When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it's painful. This was painful.
My ranking: "The Paper Menagerie", no award, "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees", "The Homecoming", "Movement", "Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue"
There are, of course, other categories, but for many of those, I am not familiar enough with the nominees or the category. It is difficult, for example, to judge who is the Best Professional Artist based only on the few samples provided, and I am not familiar with the artists' entire ouvre for the year to talk about that. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. --Don MarquisTweet
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