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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/20/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 3, Whole Number 1711
Table of Contents
Trajectory of a Falling Human:
This paper by D. A. Marshall, T. O. Hands, I. Griffiths, and G. Douglas begins:
"In the film BATMAN BEGINS, Batman can glide from tall buildings using his 'memory cloth' cape, which becomes rigid when a current is passed through it . This method of gliding is similar to that used by base jumpers with wingsuits, where the wingsuit acts as an aerofoil to create a horizontal force propelling the base jumper forwards . This paper analyses whether Batman could generate enough lift to glide successfully."
Writer John Scalzi has an amusing sixteen-minute interview on NPR discussing his new novel REDSHIRTS. You can hear it at the link below.
The Look of High Tech (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Technology has made people look very different. BlueTooth has convinced people to walk around with things hanging from their ears. Soon we are getting Google Glasses. I think somebody defaced a poster in a subway and now we are developing technology to make everybody really look like that. We will soon have the Microsoft missing tooth and the Apple mustache. [-mrl]
Stream the Restored METROPOLIS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Not long ago someone found a lot of footage that had been cut from Fritz Lang's 1927 classic science fiction film METROPOLIS after its release. The whole film including the new footage was restored. It seems to me there were special showings with a high admission price to see the film. Then Turner Classic Movies showed the full restored film to those who had TCM on their cable. (That was when I saw it.) But as these things go they generally become free to the public eventually. You can now stream it. The Open Culture site (a good site to follow) has found it on YouTube and is making it public together with a 32-page, profusely illustrated, film program from the original 1927 release. (For the program click on the picture at the top of the Open Culture posting.)
(Gad, what I wouldn't have given to have access to all this stuff when I was 14. Now it is given away free.) [-mrl]
Wah Ming Chang, Another Special Effects Genius (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was talking about JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962), which was a me-too knockoff of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), a film with special effects by the very well known stop-motion animation effects creator Ray Harryhausen. For JACK THE GIANT KILLER the effects were done by a group of lesser-known effects artists including Jim Danforth, Gene Warren, Tim Barr, and one familiar name, Wah Chang. I vaguely remembered Wah Chang had worked on George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE. In fact I had seen his name associated with several films and television shows. Curiosity led me to look up his filmography in the IMDB, and the sheer breadth of his film credits was very simply a jaw-dropper. No disrespect meant for toward Ray Harryhausen, but Wah Chang's contributions may well be as widespread as Harryhausen's. I certainly have heard or read of him but am surprised that he is not better known than he is. So what have I been able to find out?
Wah Ming Chang was born in Hawaii, but his parents moved to San Francisco. Both Chang's parents were artists but also ran a tearoom that had many artists in it clientele. The young boy would sit in the tea room and sketch and get advice from local artists including one well-known, Blanding Sloan who mentored him from age seven. Wah took particular interest in puppets. By age nine Wah was having public showings of his art. At age eleven Wah's mother died and his father decided to start over in Europe without his family. The young Wah was more or less adopted by Blanding Sloan. At twenty-one Wah went to work for Walt Disney Studios making maquettes. Maquettes are three-dimensional wooden models of the characters in the film so that artists can see to help them to draw cells. That same year he also contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. It was a strong inconvenience, but it did not sap his vitality. Blanding Sloan gave him art projects that he could do from a wheelchair. He did character maquettes for PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA, and BAMBI. Even with the inconvenience of his paralysis, he was all over fantasy films and television.
After World War II he partnered with Gene Warren, whom he had met doing work on one of the Puppetoons for George Pal, "Tulips Shall Grow". Chang together with Gene Warren formed special effects house to make short films, Centaur Productions. It failed, but later they founded and headed up a loose confederation of artists in a group called "Projects Unlimited". They were the first real special effects company, the forerunner of Industrial Light and Magic. That name, "Projects Unlimited", should be familiar to fans of the original "Outer Limits" science fiction television program. Each episode credited Projects Unlimited. For that program Chang helped to create the ant-human chimeras called "The Zanti Misfits".
One day when Pal was planning TOM THUMB he ran into Gene Warren on the street. Right there he hired Projects Unlimited to do effects for TOM THUMB. That started a long relationship with Pal, Chang, and Warren. Chang worked for Pal on films including TOM THUMB; THE TIME MACHINE; ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT; THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM; 7 FACES OF DR. LAO; and THE POWER. In Pal films his work seems frequently to have a sort of storybook quality and he will often be the visual creator of dragons. While Chang did not design the famous Time Machine--that was designed by George Pal and William Ferrari--he did build the miniature version that carries the bent cigar into the future.
Also doing work for Universal, Chang did the giant spider puppet we see looking in a bedroom window in TARANTULA. He did the cubist robotic energy collector for Fox for KRONOS. Chang did small figures for SPARTACUS to be used for forced perspective and designed headdresses for Elizabeth Taylor in CLEOPATRA. He did designs for the dinosaurs on "Land of the Lost." He did props for PLANET OF THE APES (1968).
The original television "Star Trek" series owes much to Chang. He built models for the original "Star Trek". The communicators that crewmembers of the Enterprise use and which inspired the design of many flip cell phones were created by Chang. Chang Also designed the tricorder and the tribbles for the episode "The Trouble with Tribbles".
Wah Chang died December 22, 2003, in Carmel, California.
From the end of World War II for thirty years, Wah Chang from his wheelchair was a major force in visual fantasy films and television in the United States. It is sad that fans of these films generally know so little about him.
Postscript: I cannot help but feel that by concentrating so much on Chang I have slighted Gene Warren whose career is also very impressive. Perhaps I should do a piece on him also.
IMDB Entry for Wah Chang: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0151853/
Biography of Wah Chang: http://colemanzone.com/Time_Machine_Project/wah_chang.htm
A Look at Jo Walton's Take on the Dramatic Presentation Hugo (1992 Films) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Jo Walton recently published a series of retrospectives on the Hugo Awards through 2000. While she concentrated on the novels, she also occasionally discussed other categories, and was remarkably consistent in her dislike, not to say outright hostility, towards the Dramatic Presentation category. Her stated opinion was that often there weren't even enough worthy candidates to fill the ballot, and she rarely thought the winner worthy of a Hugo.
Well, I am not going to look at every year, but let me choose one, somewhat at random with the requirements that Walton dislike it and that it be recent enough for fans to remember it. I chose 1992 (Hugos awarded in 1993) for which she said, "Bah, humbug." (See http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/07/hugo-nominees-1993 for her full column for that year.)
The nominees were:
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: "The Inner Light" was the winner.
I will agree that several of the nominees were not all that Hugo- worthy, namely ALADDIN, ALIEN 3, and BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. For what it's worth, Mark agrees with me, having rated the films as follows on a 0-to-10 scale:
So in some sense, I agree with her "Bah, humbug."
But what Walton misses are all the other dramatic presentations that were eligible. There is an irony to this: for the novels she looks at every novel nominated for all the major awards *and* all the moderately-known novels they all missed. (I am assuming she does not list every minor novel published in a given year.) But for the dramatic presentations, she does not look at what the nominators missed. Hence, her feeling that there are not enough worthy candidates is based on very incomplete data.
In 1992, what else could have been on the ballot?
The most obvious omission was PRELUDE TO A KISS, unabashedly fantasy and present on many "Top Ten" lists of the year (including Mark's). It is not as though fantasy films had never been nominated (or won) before this.
This was also the year for atmospheric horror with tinges of the fantastic. We had both SHADOWS AND FOG and ZENTROPA (a.k.a. EUROPA), as well as a new version of Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL (with Kyle MacLachlan, not Anthony Perkins). SHADOWS AND FOG was made by Woody Allen, who previously won a Hugo for SLEEPER. ZENTROPA was by Lars von Triers and won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1991. To me, either of them would seem to be a worthy choice.
For animated film, there was Hideo Miyazaki's PORCO ROSSO. It may not have been one of his greatest films, but it was certainly better than ALADDIN.
On television, there was DISASTER IN TIME (a.k.a. GRAND TOUR, a.k.a. TIMESCAPE), based on C. L. Moore's "Vintage Season". It does take liberties with the story, but is clearly superior to ALIEN 3. There was also Julie Taymor's "Fool's Fire" (based on Edgar Allan Poe's "Hop-Frog"), and David Mamet's THE WATER ENGINE.
And this set of possibilities was generated solely from a catalog of what we have. There may well be other worthy works that for whatever reason we do not have on VHS or DVD.
Were these all great? No. Were they better than what did make the ballot? Yes. I do not remember what I nominated (it was twenty years ago), and it is possible that a few of the films I did not see until later. But what I would nominate now would be:
(I am not absolutely sure I would include STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: "The Inner Light". It has been years since I saw it, but as I recall it was a well-done episode on a traditional science fiction trope.)
Of course, maybe this just means that the nominators don't look far enough afield for worthy nominees. But it is hard to claim that "Hop-Frog" and THEWATER ENGINE, which ran on PBS, had only limited releases, or that PRELUDE TO A KISS was hard to find in theaters. If indeed the only works that get nominated are the blockbusters, then there is a problem, but it is more with the voters than the category.
After writing the above, we happened to watch WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, the winner for films made in 1988 (awarded in 1989). But I'll write about that year next week. [-ecl]
LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S. A. Corey (copyright 2011, Orbit, $15.99, 582pp, ISBN 978-0-316-12908-4) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
LEVIATHAN WAKES is the last of the Hugo-nominated novels that I'll be reviewing this year, and in some ways I've saved the best for last.
James S.A. Corey is the pseudonym for the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and they have put together an old school SF novel of the kind we just don't see enough of any more. And those of you who read my reviews know that I long for the days of the old school. Charles Stross (on the back cover) and George R. R. Martin (on the front cover) call this LEVIATHAN WAKES space opera, but I'm not quite on board with that just yet. You see, LEVIATHAN WAKES is the first book in a trilogy called "The Expanse". And if the story keeps going where it seems to be going, it really is going to be a space opera in the grand old style tradition.
The story takes place completely within our Solar System, since humanity doesn't yet have the technology to take it to the stars. There is a tenuous, at best, peace between the colonies out past the asteroid belt and those from the belt on inward. But they must co-exist as best they can, as they depend upon each other for survival. Then, an ice mining ship discovers a derelict, abandoned ship that carries a pretty nasty secret. That's where the trouble begins. Jim Holden, the XO on that ice miner, broadcasts what he found on the ship and what it implies, and that act starts a war within the Solar System.
Meanwhile, a detective on the asteroid Ceres named Miller, is assigned to look for a missing girl. It seems her parents own a big corporation and they're willing to go a long way to get her back. Miller is a down on his luck detective--divorced, lonely, and a growing drinking problem. In short, he's the kind of detective we've seen in a lot of classic detective stories. His investigation leads him to Holden and the derelict ship.
And then things really get interesting. Because it's not just the outer planets vs. the inner planets anymore - it involves big corporations, greed, corruption, and all sorts of, in my mind, cool things that make you go "yeah, that's what I'm talking about". You see, it seems that a couple of billion years ago an alien race sent a "protomolecule" toward earth. We don't know what the intent was, but it certainly doesn't appear to be a good intent. And with this revelation, we see the grand scope that The Expanse is aiming for.
This novel has a little bit of everything: SF, horror, romance, detective work, you name it. The characters are believable and engaging. And so is the plot, really. We understand the motivations of the big corporation named Protogen simply because we've seen it a thousand times before, both in other stories and in real life. We understand Miller's behavior and motivations, because who hasn't fallen in love with someone that's out of his or her reach? We understand Holden's motivations, because who hasn't wanted to set things right when they're so obviously wrong? The list goes on.
This is a terrific novel, and I am looking forward to reading the second book in The Expanse, CALIBAN'S WAR. Just one more book on my to-read stack, but one that I might pop off sooner than I normally would. [-jak]
THE HIDDEN REALITY: PARALLEL UNIVERSES AND THE DEEP LAWS OF THE COSMOS by Brian Greene (book review by Greg Frederick):
This is a review of the latest book from physicist, Brian Greene titled THE HIDDEN REALITY: PARALLEL UNIVERSES AND THE DEEP LAWS OF THE COSMOS. Greene's previous two science books THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS and THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE were national best sellers and very good essays on science. Though the topic of this book from Greene sounds like a subject from the realm of science fiction it is not. Greene suggests in the book that a number of scientific theories are pointing or leading scientists to consider the possibly that multiple universes could exist. Major developments in theoretical physics including relativistic physics, quantum physics, cosmological physics, unified physics, and computational physics have lead some scientists to more seriously consider this possibility.
Some of the possible parallel (or multiple) universe proposals include: Quilted Multiverse, Inflationary Multiverse, Brane Multiverse, Cyclic Multiverse, Landscape Multiverse, Quantum Multiverse, Holographic Multiverse, Simulated Multiverse, and finally the Ultimate Multiverse. The Quilted Multiverse relies on the concept that conditions in an infinite universe will repeat across space and therefore create parallel worlds. The Inflationary Multiverse has as the central idea the theory that inflation is eternal and continually creating multiple universes as the initial inflation period after the Big Bang created our own Universe. The Quantum Multiverse suggests that all possibilities of a probability wave are realized in a parallel universe. This is also known as the "Many Worlds" interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.
Greene mentions that there are a number of cases where scientific theory has pointed to new insights that were not initially projected or envisioned by the theory's originator. Such examples include Einstein's General Relativity theory where the math predicted either an expanding or contracting universe, but Einstein himself initially believed the universe was static eternal and not expanding or contracting. Only years later when Edwin Hubble, an astronomer, showed him evidence from his astronomic studies that many galaxies are moving away from our galaxy and the Universe is expanding did he change his mind. In my opinion, this book is a good read about the new directions physics is taking theoretically. [-gf]
THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Arizona-based second-time writer/director Travis Mills gives us a nifty little film noir thriller, economically shot but with good writing. A reporter quits his job to write a book on the real business of being a private detective in the 21st century. On the way he meets a legendary private detective and falls for the detective's mistress. It overcomes its meager budget and is and is sufficiently well-written to give the viewer that "what the heck is going on" feeling. In the end the solution is genuinely surprising.Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Scott Miller (played by Travis Mills) is a pretty good reporter who is stuck in a dead-end position at his paper. In his spare time he interviews real-life private detectives and writes a book about their business. One detective tells him about another who is considered to be the real deal, John D (Rob Edwards), a genuine hard-boiled PI. Sadly this real deal is anything but the stuff of an exciting book. He describes his job as, "I sit. I watch. I listen. It's boring." At least one thing is not boring about John D. He has a girl friend Chris (Cara Nicole) who is sexy, makes porno films, and is dangerous to know. After a one-night-stand with Chris, Miller's life becomes a lot like something out of a detective novel. But is he the detective or the next victim? Or both?
Having one person write, direct, and take the lead role is frequently a bad idea. But THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER has a brisk, polished look and feel. And the setting sets off the story. One fault might be that Mills will take a wordless sequence, let it run long, and show it with just jazz music playing over it. You either are into jazz music or you feel like you have been put on hold on the telephone. The film is brief as it is, 89 minutes, and did not need padding.
THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER is filmed in crisp black and white, giving it a look that probably belies a small budget. Mills takes his cameras to the streets of Arizona and while the setting is not Los Angeles in the 1940s, his visual sense keeps the view of interest while still filming mostly close to his home. It may not have a lot of the multicultural feel I expected of Phoenix. But some of the references, like a mention of the sheriff's posse, should reassure the locals that they are watching a gen-u-ine Phoenix film. Keeping that budget low is a cast and crew of people you probably have not seen or heard of before. That probably includes Mills whose only previous feature (again writing, directing, and starring) was 2011's A BIG SOMETHING. But here the story is what is most important and THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER is surprisingly engaging. In the end there is a little that is not quite explained. There is just enough that is not spelled out to give the viewer something to talk about on the drive home.
For someone just starting out--you can judge Mills' age because there he is on the screen--Mills does a pretty good job of pulling a film together and carrying it. I will be interested to see how his career continues. I rate THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. THE DETECTIVE'S LOVER will show theatrically in Arizona and elsewhere it will be available for download.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2338303/
How to Vote the Hugos (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
In response to David Shallcross's (and others') comments on Hugo rankings in the 07/13/12 issue of the MT VOID, Dale Skran writes:
This discussion is helpful in educating the voting public about the oddness of the Hugo voting system. Evelyn is quite right in her conclusion that the Hugo system really only works well if you have read or seen each nominee.
As for my ranking, I in fact understood that I was ranking HUGO below no award by not voting for it. My rationale is that it does not appear to be SF or fantasy. Also, HUGO has received many awards and nominations already, and hardly needs a Hugo. It's possible that if I saw it, I might change my mind, but it is not the sort of film I have a lot of interest in. My main purpose in providing the listing was to emphasize my view that SOURCE CODE is an excellent SF film. [-dls]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE LONG GOODBYE by Raymond Chandler (ISBN 978-0-394-75768-1) is a classic hard-boiled detective story to be read slowly so as to savor Chandler's use of language: "I went out to the kitchen to make coffee--yards of coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The lifeblood of tired men."
Or, "Off to my left was an empty swimming pool, and nothing ever looks emptier than an empty swimming pool."
One character talks about what the public wants from books: "I've got five hundred pages of typescript here, well over a hundred thousand words. My books run long. The public likes long books. The damn fool public thinks if there's a lot of pages there must be a lot of gold."
And there is Chandler's take on law enforcement:
I got up slowly and went over to the bookshelves. I took down the bound copy of the California Code. I held it out to Dayton.
"Would you kindly find me the section that says I have to answer the questions?"
He said: "Every citizen has to co-operate with the police. In all ways, even by physical action, and especially by answering any questions of a non-incriminating nature the police think it necessary to ask." His voice saying this was hard and bright and smooth.
"It works out that way." I said. "Mostly by a process of direct or indirect intimidation. In law no such obligation exists. Nobody has to tell the police anything, any time, anywhere."
[Of course, Marlowe ends up in the holding cells for three days, which neatly sums up what was--and still is--the difference between the law in theory and the law in practice.]
A TANGLE IN SLOPS by Jeffrey Barlough (ISBN 978-0-9787634-2-8) is the sixth book in the "western Lights" series. I have reviewed a couple of the previous books; this maintains the quality. "Slops" is Slopshire, another one of Barlough's glorious place names. There is a small hiccough in a reference to the Tudor kings-- Barlough has been pretty diligent in avoiding a specific historic background for his world, which must perforce differ from our own due not only to the extension of the last Ice Age, but to the "Sundering", whatever that was.
The series itself seems split in two parts. The first three novels (DARK SLEEPER, THE HOUSE IN THE HIGH WOOD, STRANGE CARGO) are clearly set on a western coast of a North America isolated from the rest of the world by the Sundering and in the grip of a new Ice Age. But the last three (BERTRAM OF BUTTER CROSS, ANCHORWICK, and A TANGLE IN SLOPS) *seem* to be back in Britain, and in a climate that, while often dreary, is not an Ice Age. In particular, the references in A TANGLE IN SLOPS to Orkney and Zetland, and the Scandinavian names of some of the characters, would seem to place the action in the British Isles rather than North America. This is a bit peculiar, since everything I have read indicates that all the books take place in North America and there are overlapping place names between the first three and the last three books. But there is a definite difference in the *feel* of the two subsets.
Also included is a "Western Lights" short story for children, "Ebenezer Crackernut".
THE BOOK OF THE UNKNOWN: TALES OF THE THIRTY-SIX by Jonathon Keats (ISBN 978-0-8129-7897-1) is a collection of a dozen stories of the Lamedh-Vov--the thirty-six righteous men on whom the continued existence of the world depends. (Keats has updated it somewhat, and some of the Lamedh-Vov are women.) There is an introduction explaining the tales, but it becomes clear that it, and the editors' afterword are just another fiction. Fantasy based on Celtic legends is very common in the "fantasy" sections of bookstores; fantasy based on Jewish legends is much rarer and usually found only in the literary fiction section. (Even the Jewish section is barren of them, that section being reserved for non-fiction.) There are a few exceptions: THE RED MAGICIAN (Lisa Goldstein), GOLEM IN THE GEARS (Piers Anthony), and FEET OF CLAY (Terry Pratchett).
Keats's "saints" (to use the common term) are very atypical saints: a thief, a murderer, a whore, a gambler, ... not your usual saintly material. Yet they are each unique in their own way, and each has that "essence of sainthood" that is needed. If I had to put it in a category, I would say that it is closest to magical realism and that it has more in common with a book like Laura Esquivel's LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE than with a high fantasy such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS or sword and sorcery such as the "Conan" stories. Some might say this would appeal to Jewish readers, but I think its appeal is broader than that, and would recommend it to those who want a different sort of fantasy.
And finally, a correction to my comments on the translations of Jules Verne's FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON in the 08/12/11 issue of the MT VOID:
I had said:
The result of all the bad translations is that Verne's knowledge of Florida (and the United States in general) often seems as shaky as his knowledge of the moon. Mercier/King has Stones Hill, near Tampa, have an elevation of 1800 feet; the highest elevation anywhere in Florida is 345 feet. The Edward Roth translation is only marginally better than Mercier/King's, with and elevation as "nearly a thousand feet." But Verne got it right: the original French gives Stone's Hill an elevation of only 300 feet.
Recently Dorothy Heydt asked me, "Uh, dumb question: did Verne say 'feet' or 'meters'? Because (in absence of other data which I bet you can supply) if he actually said 'feet' (in spite of being a 19th-century Frenchman) and somebody *thought* he had said '300 metres' and converted it into 'feet', that would actually be 'nearly a thousand feet'."
So I went to look at what Verne actually wrote was: "Cet emplacement est situé à trois cents toises au-dessus du niveau de la mer par 27°7' de latitude et 5°7' de longitude ouest;"
So actually it seems to say 300 *fathoms*, which would be 1800 feet. So Mercier/King got it right.
How did I get it wrong? Well, GoogleTranslate says "fathoms" if given the single word "troises", but "feet" when given the whole sentence! I must have fed the whole sentence in and (foolishly) assumed the translation was correct! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated. --Alec BourneTweet
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