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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/03/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 5, Whole Number 1713
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ)
August 16: THE ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS by Francis Crick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 13: WYRD SISTERS (1999), novel by Terry Pratchett, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, discussion after September 27: CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 11: GATTACA (1997), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, discussion after October 18: THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN by Alexander McCall Smith, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 15: TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (tentative), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (note this is the *third* Thursday) December 20: DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Northern New Jersey events are listed at:
France in the Year 2000: The Future That Never Happened (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This site has a collection of imaginings of artists from around the 1900 of what would the year 2000 be like. Not all of the predictions came true.
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching that great old fantasy film PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. What a film! I think it is time for a remake. You just cannot get enough films of pretty young girls meeting and instantly falling in love with middle-aged men whom they meet in parks. [-mrl]
Hammer Horror & SF Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Someone I knew told me that he had found on Blu-Ray a Hammer film. The film he found was THE REPTILE. He knows I have a special interest in movies produced by Hammer Films of Britain. I hated to cool his enthusiasm, but not all Hammer films are of the same quality. This is not one I tend to recommend. I thought that this particular film was a little too close in plotting to that of THE GORGON, a film the same production company had made two years earlier. Hammer made THE GORGON in 1964 and THE REPTILE in 1966. The REPTILE was better than some later Hammer films, but it certainly was not one of Hammer's better efforts.
So who was Hammer Films? Hammer was a relatively minor film production company in Britain founded in 1934 but which came to prominence in the 1950s. In the early part of the decade they thought that there was money to be made taking popular radio and TV dramas and remaking them as feature films. They also would rent country estates to film in rather than a studio, which gave the films a more credible feel. They would be remakes of TV comedies and occasionally science fiction plays. Once they were doing that they discovered that their more successful films were the films based on science fiction plays. They decided to give horror a try by making a Frankenstein movie.
The film they made was THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which they modestly claimed was based on the Mary Shelley novel though it was more their creation than that of Shelley. For the part of the scientist they chose an actor already somewhat known for science fiction. Peter Cushing had played Winston Smith in the very controversial BBC adaptation of George Orwell's 1984. So he was familiar to the audience even if he was not yet a household name. To play the monster they picked an actor mostly because he was tall. This actor was Christopher Lee. CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was two color firsts. It was the first Hammer film ever made in color and it was the first Frankenstein feature film ever released in color. (The 1939 SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was intended to be in color but was released in monochrome.) Hammer's Frankenstein movie was released through Warner Brothers who to their own amazement found it to be a hit.
They finally had a big success so they wanted to do something similar and see if lightning would strike twice. The film they made was DRACULA (known in the US as HORROR OF DRACULA). It was actually a bigger success than CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN had been. Christopher Lee says that a Warner executive said that those two films actually saved Warner Brothers at a time it was foundering.
Hammer had found a formula that worked, at least for two decades. Their brand of horror film became the standard on both sides of the Atlantic. There films were more visceral and sexy than horror was before their time. At the time some of the critics and some of the public found their style too graphic and gory. They probably were graphic for that day, though they would be reserved by today's standards--standards they helped bring about.
Hammer's reign at the top lasted until more visceral films came along. Arguably the film that knocked them off their perch was THE EXORCIST with its course dialog, stomach churning visuals, and the immediacy of its urban American setting. Eventually Hammer bred their competition and had mined out the field of gothic horror even after their infusion of sex and violence.
Next week I will list what I consider my choice for the best Hammer films in the category they were best known for, their horror, science fiction, and fantasy. These will be films to look for rather than THE REPTILE.
Hammer did dabble in other genres. I do want to mention two films that are not in the fantasy film category.
THE SNORKEL (1958)
Directed by Guy Green. Starring Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John.
Hammer did some suspense crime stories and most are momentary throwaway films. THE SNORKEL is several steps above the others. It is about a man who gets away with murder (literally) simply because he knows how to use a swimming snorkel. His stepdaughter is convinced he murdered her mother, but he covers his tracks so well with the use of his snorkel that nobody will believe the stepdaughter. The result is a battle of wits with the girl (played by Betta St. John) against strong odds. This is a killer (Peter Van Eyck) that the audience really wants to see meet his end in some really nasty way. The screenplay is by Peter Myers and Jimmy Sangster. It is based on a story by Anthony Dawson, who as an actor was featured in Hammer's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and in Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER.
THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson.
This is something of a historical diversion here, but it is important to understand what THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is about. This film is strongly inspired by John Masters' novel THE DECEIVERS, though Hammer never credited Masters. There have been only two films that have any sort of an accurate representation of the Cult of the Thugee. This is an intriguing and not well-known chapter of history. The Thugee or Thugs believed that to obey Kali, they were supposed to strangle non-believers (and incidentally they were allowed to steal their possessions).
The name "Thugee" really means "Deceiver". The Thugee would find a party of merchants on the road and say that the roads were unsafe and beg the protection of the caravan. They would then ingratiate themselves with their hosts and be rather charming, all the while watching for special signs in nature that they would take as good or bad omens for the upcoming event. When the time was right, they would whip out rumals (like scarves in which they would knot coins in one end so that with a quick whipping they could wrap it around their victims' necks). In seconds and silently every non-Thug would be strangled or attacked with a ceremonial pickaxe. The caravan would not know anything was wrong and one minute later they would all be dead. When all were dead, they would be buried and the proceeds of the caravan would be split up.
There might also be ceremonies in which sugar called "gur" would be ritually eaten. The victims were almost never foreigners. I have heard it said that while the British were exploiting India--as they themselves freely admit they did--they did do two positive things for India. They build the railroads and they suppressed the Thugee. The British were distressed at the amount of crime on the roads but assumed it was random. If I remember correctly, the fact that there was a strangler cult was revealed in a single complaint by an Indian to a British missionary. The missionary was incredulous but was able to confirm that there was something to the story, and he passed the word on to Major General William Sleeman. This would have been about 1825. Sleeman started his own investigation and found out not only was it true, but it was a genuine holocaust. Estimates are that millions had already been killed without anybody guessing it was one single conspiracy.
Modern Indians tend to downplay the importance of a cult that murdered millions of their own numbers. Why is a mystery to me. First of all, most of the Thugs were Muslims, not even true believers in Kali. Secondly, the Indians were the victims. It may be because it was the British who did the most to suppress the cult. THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY was really about the British discovery of the cult, so it makes good swashbuckler material for a Hammer film.
But Hammer was best known for a sort of gothic horror. I will list some good films to look for next week. [-mrl]
Some Annotations to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red-Headed League" (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Not all of these are original, although I have tried to add enough that I am not just repeating other people's previous observations.
1) Watson writes, "I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year ..." Later he says of Jabez Wilson's newspaper, "It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago," and Wilson himself says, "Spaulding ... came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his hand." This is impossible, for two reasons. First, April 27 was a Sunday and papers were not published on Sundays in London in 1890. But also, two months from April is not autumn. The sign Wilson found before coming to Holmes said, "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890." (A Thursday, by the way.) This definitely places the story in autumn, but eight weeks earlier would be August 14. Yes, both April and August start with "A", but the numeric dates are completely different.
Since Holmes says, "To-day is Saturday," it must be October 11, 1890, and based on what Wilson says, the advertisement would have appeared on August 16. The problem with this is two-fold. First, though Wilson says Spaulding came to him on a Saturday, the ad said to apply on Monday, yet they "put up the shutters for the day" and headed for Pope's Court. Second, it must have been nine weeks between the two dates; see below.
2) Wilson is paid four pounds a week, and paid once a week ("on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week's work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after."). Wilson also later says, "... it cost them two and thirty pounds." Yet Holmes says, "[You] are, as I understand, richer by some 30 pounds." (It could be argued that Holmes was rounding off the number, but that would be unlike him. It could also be, I suppose, that he is deducting the cost of the materials Wilson had to provide.)
But a bigger problem is that if the advertisement appeared eight weeks earlier, and the League was dissolved on Thursday, then Wilson got paid for only *seven* weeks of work, or twenty-eight pounds. Surely Wilson would not make such a mistake.
3) Wilson brings seven sheets of paper with him for the first day ("I bought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper"). Even given the slowness of writing with a dip pen, wouldn't he run out of paper before his four hours were up? Maybe not, because foolscap paper is about twice the size of our current standard paper size, or of the A4 size in Britain.
4) Is it really likely that the conspirators would dissolve the League too days before the robbery? Nothing was scheduled to happen until late Saturday, so it was not as though they would be busy. As Holmes said, "The 4 pounds a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands?" Given the result was the total collapse of their plans, would saving four pounds really have seemed worth it?
For that matter, isn't making Wilson bring his own paper, pens, and ink a bit stingy?
5) After eight weeks (48 days, since apparently Saturday counted as a work day as well, or 192 hours), is it likely Wilson would be at the end of the A's (which included "Abbots and Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica")? Even if he is working from the first edition, he has 511 pages to copy for the As--and by the way, it has no entries for Archery or Attica, and only five lines for Armour. (The 511 pages each have about nine words per column-line, sixty lines per column, and two columns per page, or roughly a thousand words per page. 511,000 words in 192 hours is 2662 words per hour, or 44 words per minute. This assumes no pauses, and doing this with a dip pen is pretty unlikely.) All later editions would be longer.
(The first edition was in three volumes, stacked rather heavily towards the beginning of the alphabet. Volume I was "A-B", Volume II was "C-L", and Volume III was "M-Z".) And does Wilson have to copy the illustrations as well?
Baring-Gould argues it was seven days a week, because Wilson says he went "every day," but I do not find this convincing, as I have seen many stores say they are open "every day" or "daily" 9 to 5, when it turns out they really mean "every day except Sunday" or even "every weekday." In Victorian London, it is most unlikely that Spaulding/Clay would expect Wilson to come on Sundays.
6) Holmes says, "For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some 30,000 pounds," but Merryweather says, "We ... borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France." A pound is 0.235420 troy ounces (7.322381g) of 100% gold; a napoleon is 0.1867 troy ounces (5.801g) of gold, but because the coin is only 90% gold, it weights 6.45g total.
So based on gold content, a napoleon is worth only about 0.80 pounds, or 16 shillings. (This is close to what I have found on at least one site as the official exchange rate.) 30,000 napoleons would be only 24,000 pounds; 30,000 pounds would be 37,500 napoleons. If they are in crates, and "each crate has 2,000 packed in lead foil," 30,000 is probably a more accurate number, and there are fifteen crates.
So each crate weighs 2000 * 6.45g, or roughly thirty pounds (not counting the lead foil, or the crate itself). Even adding those, the crates are definitely individually manageable, and there are only fifteen of them, with a total weight of only maybe 750 pounds.
This means that, unlike a lot of heist films, the amount of gold to be transported is an amount that *could* be transported.
Some commentators think this is more than they could transport, but a pulley system would let them haul each box up into Wilson's basement and the total weight is about that of four or five men. Surely there were wagons or other conveyances that could carry that weight.
A bigger problem is how they thought they would remove the boxes from Wilson's basement without being heard. Maybe there was a coal chute that they would use with a pulley-and-wheel system to haul them up to the street.
7) If Jones had an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door of Wilson's establishment, and there was no other retreat from the bank vault, how did Holmes expect Clay and his conspirator(s) to get in?
8) Holmes says, "I have been at some small expense over this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund"--but what expenses could he have had?
9) Holmes says, "Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London." Where was he making these inquiries, and on what basis--especially since he apparently knew at the very beginning who "Vincent Spaulding" was: after Wilson's description of him, Holmes replies, "I thought as much. Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for earrings?" This can hardly be a random question.
10) Holmes says, "Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days for their escape." This, and other references firmly fixes the case as taking place on a Saturday. But if the conspirators wait until almost midnight to start, how does that give them two days (unless Monday is a bank holiday, of which there are none in the autumn)?
11) And as Baring-Gould and others ask, where did all the dirt from the tunnel go, and if Watson could smell the hot metal from the lamp, wouldn't Clay have been able to also?
12) Saxe-Coburg Square does not exist, nor does Pope's Court (neither number 7 nor number 4, both of which are given as the address of the Red-Headed League), but there is a 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.
EMP (letter of comment by Frank J. Nagy):
In response to Mark's comments on EMP in his review of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in the 07/27/12 issue of the NT VOID, Frank Nagy writes:
I haven't seen the movie as yet but have, I think, some clarifications on the Gotham nuclear detonation.
EMP is typically produced by high-altitude nuclear explosions where there are lots of free electrons that the explosion (probably the radiated energy is the cause) can accelerate. The acceleration and deceleration of these electrons causes the EMP. This is not a very large factor in denser atmosphere.
The mushroom cloud is caused by surface debris carried aloft by the fireball. This will occur at any near surface detonation whether over land or over water. In the case of over water, the cloud is formed from vaporized water and water droplets. [-fjn]
I knew that EMP is much diminished near the ground and what the mushroom cloud is. My question is if you have a nuclear blast near enough to a city (well, it is actually Manhattan under a different name) such that the cloud can be easily seen from the ground in the city, is the EMP then negligible? While bomb was far from being detonated ideally for creating EMP, would the pulse not still be effective considering the proximity? Also, as I said in the review, I don't believe a detonation over water would create a mushroom cloud rather than something more spherical. [-mrl]
I think so since the phenomenon would have been discovered much earlier in the cycle of atmospheric testing as the EMP would have affected the monitoring equipment--or so I would have assumed. As is, it wasn't until the space test over Johnson Island (altitude of a couple of hundred miles I believe) that EMP was discovered when electronics and the power grid on Hawaii were fried.
As for mushroom clouds over water, I seem to remember photos of tests at sea that showed mushroom clouds (at least forming). [-fjn]
And later, Frank adds:
I found a few minutes to do some Google searches on these topics. Here are a pair of links on EMP:
The Wikipedia article suggests that EMP was observed with the earlies atomic tests. I wonder if these effects on the observation equipment were due to the proximity to the blast. The Federation of American Scientists is somewhat more technically inclined (as to how the effect comes about) and seems to suggest that it is mostly an effect of high-altitude detonations. So I guess the issue is up for doubt. I just hope we don't see any experimental verification any time soon.
I did find a YouTube video of a 1946 explosion in water that clearly seems to be forming a mushroom cloud:
and an interesting explanation of the formation of the mushroom cloud and color changes:
We see a tall mushroom cloud from Gotham, if I remember correctly. I guess the conclusion I would draw is that the mushroom clouds of an atomic detonation over water might be mushroom shaped, but more like a squat mushroom than a taller one. It is harder to push dry land aside than it is to push water. Electromagnetic pulse really needs line of sight (or what would be under cloudless conditions) to electronics. Batman would have had to have gotten the device far enough from Gotham that the horizon would get in the way of the pulse, but still near enough that so much of the mushroom cloud would have been seen from Gotham. I suppose that is possible, but I am a bit skeptical.
Also, Wikipedia says a detonation over water is shaped like a cauliflower:
(It sounds like with enough bombs you can make a really nasty salad.) [-mrl]
Saturn Award Winners:
The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films [hey, is this academy a school someplace that just has courses in and studies genre films?] presents annually awards for fantasy films. The Academy was founded in 1972. These awards recognize accomplishment in the making of science fiction film.
The Saturn Awards for science fiction and film were presented on July 26 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. I will say that I am pleased to see that they so little emphasize superhero films.
Home Entertainment Awards
Special Achievement Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films
There is more information about the awards at: http://www.saturnawards.org/.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
McFarland & Company is known for publishing narrowly focused "academic" books for niche markets. Examples are WHAT EVERY ROSE GROWER SHOULD KNOW and WOMEN AT WAR: GENDER ISSUES OF AMERICANS IN COMBAT. In the area of popular culture, and more specifically science fiction and horror film, they have published such books as JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILMS and FANTASTIC FILM SUBJECT GUIDE.
THE FRANKENSTEIN ARCHIVE by Donald F. Glut (ISBN 978-0-7864-1353-0) is yet another example, consisting of fifteen previously published essays on the Frankenstein myth in popular culture. The first one, for example, tries to reconcile all the apparent contradictions in the Universal Frankenstein series, another talks about the various stunt men who have doubled as the Frankenstein monster, and a third analyzes who played the monster in HELLZAPOPPIN'. Glut is a real fan and the essays are certainly of interest to other fans.
However, the negative side of McFarland is that they do not spend a lot of time editing the books they publish, or in particular proofreading them. So this volume is full of errors. Some are ordinary typos: "aka" instead of "a.k.a." (page 18), THE CIRCUS OF DR. LOA instead of THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO (page 70), "Jekyl" (page 111). Others are incorrect word choices: "Henry Frankenstein's two adult siblings, Wolf and Ludwig" (page 11--they are siblings to each other, but are Henry's *children*), "Turn of the (18th-19th) Century" (should have been "19th-20th"--page 12), "titled middle- American bigot in JOE" (when "eponymous" is the correct word--page 71). And there is the occasional flat-out error, as when Glut says that the monster is chained up in the police station in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (it was actually chained up in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) (page 79).
LITTLE AMERICA by Richard E. Byrd (1931, no ISBN) is Byrd's account of his polar exploration expedition involving the establishment of "Little America" and the first flight over the South Pole. One interesting historical note: Byrd spends a lot of time talking about who got to which parts of Antarctica first, and in particular which countries can claim which part. The subsequent Antarctic Treaty of 1961 prohibited all new claims except by the United States or the USSR (now Russia, though one has to wonder if all the "breakaway republics" also have the right to new claims as well). The status of the previous claims is not entirely clear.
Byrd writes about the beauty of Antarctica, and the emptiness, and the harshness. At one point during the winter it gets so cold that the kerosene lamps do not work--because the kerosene freezes! He also describes the phenomenon where the heat rising in the huts means that while at shoulder height the temperature might be 70 degrees Fahrenheit, at foot level the temperature is literally at the freezing point.
Byrd frequently contrasts his "modern" expedition (which of course seems terribly primitive to what one sees today, such as in John Carpenter's film THE THING) with the earlier Scott and Shackleton expeditions, and how the modern miracle of aviation makes things so much easier. But the difficulties of Byrd getting his supply ships to the actual continent contrast with today's cruise ships that take tourists to spend a few hours or days there. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Death is only a larger kind of going abroad. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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