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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/10/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 6, Whole Number 1714
Table of Contents
The Future According to Films:
Charles Harris sends the following link: http://i.imgur.com/FgDzZ.jpg>
It is an annotated timeline; click on the black bar to enlarge.
How Do You Like Me Now? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I guess I find the world getting bizarre right around me. I went into a restaurant and they had a sign that said, "Like us on Facebook." I just can't imagine telling someone to like me someplace. Where else can I tell them to like me? Do I have to limit it to just one place they should like me? Can it be some place on me? [-mrl]
My Fifteen Best Hammer SF/Horror/Fantasy Films, Part 1 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I talked about who Hammer Films of Britain was and discussed two of their atypical films. Herewith I begin a list of the best fifteen films they made (in my opinion). I will list their top films getting to better films all the time and leading toward their best film.
15. THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)
Directed by John Gilling. Starring Andre Morell, Diane Clare.
This film was shot back to back with THE REPTILE, using the same sets in Cornwall. The zombies are not the type we are seeing in current films. Those are really derived from vampires. The zombies in this film are reanimated corpses used for cheap labor. They do not kill and eat people. They are effectively willing slaves. The plot has a mysterious fatal sickness spreading among young men in the Cornish village. The unscrupulous operator of a tin mine in has brought the supernatural voodoo practices from Haiti to Cornwall. It is questionable whether the mystery element is supposed to work or not. It certainly is not hidden who the villain is. But the zombies are effectively presented.
14. THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1964)
Directed by Michael Carreras. Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard.
This is probably the most controversial choice on my list. A lot of the fans do not care for the film. Well, I have a special interest in mummy movies. Frankenstein movies seem to not have much more back-story than that there was this man and he made a monster. Dracula does not have much more back-story than that there was this vampire. Mummies are different. The Egyptians had a different belief system and their own system of magic. Immortal mummies are just one small piece of it. There is a lot more to Egyptian magic. Still most mummy films just use the mummy as if it were an implacable stalker like the Frankenstein monster. In CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB there is more going on than just a mummy has been revived and is walking around. It is the only mummy film that suggests there is more to Egyptian magic than mummification. Interestingly, American comedy actor Fred Clark is featured. Also in the cast is George Pastel, a character actor whose deep resonant voice is instantly recognizable. Hammer used him in both THE MUMMY and CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB. He was also the leader of the Kali Cult in STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY and was the train conductor in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. He was the voice for Andre Morell in SHE and for Woody Strode in the non-Hammer TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES. Pastell is certainly one character actor who does not get his due.
13. SHE (1965)
Directed by Robert Day. Starring Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing.
She is Ayesha a beautiful and immortal woman born in Ancient Egypt. Ayesha has searched for thousands of years for the reincarnation of a lover she murdered and wants back. This is a very different type of fantasy for Hammer. Like CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB it does not have too many followers. I saw it at just about the right age, maybe 14, and was attracted by--no, not Ms. Andress. She is a wooden actress and I have never liked her in anything, even DR. NO. It was the African adventure aspect that fascinated me. After seeing the movie I immediately had to read the novel, and I have been a fan of H Rider Haggard's lost race stories ever since. The journey takes the characters across the "Mountains of the Moon." That is an area that had been the site of some amazing real life adventures. I don't know how much you know about the expedition of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to find the source of the Nile. They were searching in the same place. The film about the Burton-Speke expedition is even titled THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON.
12. FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson.
In my opinion Hammer frequently had trouble figuring what new to do with Christopher Lee's Dracula. They rarely found it. In several films the only way they could portray him is as some evil super- parasite. Even with changing settings this made all his stories pretty much similar. They had a much better approach with their Frankenstein series. Each story is unique. Each develops the character of Victor Frankenstein. In this film Frankenstein's major experiment is really well intentioned. Along the way he does some evil things, but his experiment is actually benevolent. A great scientist has a dying body destroying his mind. Frankenstein saves the scientist's life by transplanting his brain to a healthy body. His mistake is that he does not clear his plans with the scientist and the scientist's wife. The scientist is unable to come to terms with the shock that he is not going to die, but will have an unfamiliar body. He prefers to die and take Frankenstein with him to coming to terms with his new situation.
11. X THE UNKNOWN (1956)
Directed by Leslie Norman. Starring Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman.
This is a monster movie with a shapeless blob-like creature from the center of the Earth being squeezed out by the pressure of rock above it. It comes out looking for radioactivity to dine upon. Hammer had had success with THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, a science fiction film with the main character British rocket scientist Bernard Quatermass, the creation of Nigel Kneale. (There will be more on Kneale and Quatermass later in this list). Jimmy Sangster, who later would write THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA, was chosen to write another Quatermass film. He completed it, but Nigel Kneale told them in no uncertain terms they did not have the rights to use his character. Instead the hero scientist is named Adam Royston (played by American Dean Jagger) and he is backed by Inspector McGill (Leo McKern). Compared to a Quatermass film X THE UNKNOWN seems a bit absurd, but as sci-fi films go, it is fairly intelligent.
Well, that is five out of the way. Next week I will continue on down my list to the top. [-mrl]
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
I find myself oddly pleased with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the final installment in the Nolan/Bale series of Batman movies, which includes BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. I've heard so much about how dark the movie was that when the audience started clapping at the end, I realized that the critics might have gotten something wrong. Sadly, the real-life tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, at a midnight showing of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has overshadowed the movie to some degree. It would be a shame if anyone avoids seeing this excellent film due to its unfortunate association with a madman bent on killing people in a movie theatre.
There is a lot of really good stuff in TDKR. It is an excellent capstone to the series, and more than that, the best film of the series. There was a lot of early controversy about the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and early stills of her costume looked odd. I am writing here to congratulate Anne on creating the definitive Catwoman. She combines many elements from the comic character over a period of decades to develop an interesting and nuanced version of this iconic character. Her costume lacks the S&M props/look, and her cat ears are night vision goggles folded up. She never actually calls herself "The Catwoman", which adds a touch of realism. The movie tells a number of classic Catwoman stories. We first follow the tale of the cat burglar who first steals from, then partners with, and finally falls in love with Batman, but who is always on the edge between good and evil, rather like Batman himself. We see Catwoman as the defender of her neighborhood and the trainer of Jen, a young pickpocket. Early on Catwoman spouts a Robin Hood philosophy, but later rejects the horrific result when Bane imposes a communist-style dictatorship on Gotham. This is a well-rounded portrait of Catwoman/Selina Kyle, with the main secret left untold being just where she learned to fight like that--and indeed she is an excellent fighter with a well-choreographed style, taking a bit from capoeira. Her age matches well with that of Bruce Wayne, and she strikes a pose of old-time elegance when called on to do so.
Gary Oldman puts in a great performance as Commissioner James Gordon. Although Gordon spends much of the movie in a hospital bed, in some ways he is as much the hero as Batman, and we get to see a wonderful tale of the Gordon/Batman partnership. Tom Hardy plays Bane, the super-strong villain with an odd mask who defeats and attempts to break Batman. I expected Bane to be presented merely as a brutal thug, but the movie fills out Bane's background and makes him into a worthy foe for Batman, frightening and intellectual at the same time. Michael Caine puts in, as usual, a great performance as Alfred. Caine is the standard against which all future portrayals of this character will be measured.
Christian Bale continues to provide the definitive Batman. Older and physically worn out in TDKR, Bale struggles with the reality that if he continues to be Batman, he is almost certainly going to die, and that Bane is younger and stronger. It should not surprise you that, like the hero he is, Batman rises to the occasion, even if he has to loose everything he has and is first.
TDKR has a number of powerful twists that appear near the end of the film. Some of them you may see coming, but one big one snuck right up on me. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, all I will say is that TDKR wraps up a lot of loose threads from the previous films, and especially fills out some weak spots in the first movie. I was unhappy with Ra's al Ghul in BATMAN BEGINS, but after TDKR all is forgiven--Nolan has created a great non-canonical Ra's al Ghul story--you just have to see the whole series to appreciate it.
Unlike the earlier Batman movies, Nolan's trilogy both brings the story to a final conclusion, while leaving the door open for new Batman movies in the same universe. I'm going to let you figure this out by watching the movie!
There has been a good deal of ink spilled on the idea that TDKR has some kind of political significance, and especially that it is advocating an attack on the wealthy. Rush Limbaugh has been spouting the absurd idea that TDKR is an attack on Romney (who worked at Bain Capital) because the villain is named "Bane". Let's leave aside the fact that Bane the comic book character existed a long time before Romney the Republican Presidential candidate, which refutes Rush's point quite well. I suppose an ideologically blinkered person who left half way through the movie might come to the conclusion that TDKR was an attack on the wealthy, but I found TDKR a compelling reminder of why executing all the rich people and stealing their goods did not work out well in communist Russia. Bane reminds us of how difficult times can give rise to ideologues who promise to turn society over to the masses but in reality simply create a new power structure with themselves in charge. I'm not the only one to notice this theme--after I wrote the first draft this review, I noticed an op-ed column in the 7/30/12 "Wall Street Journal" titled "Batman Battles the Politics of Resentment" by Andrew Klavan which makes many of the same points.
It is also worth noting the parallels between the League of Shadows in the Nolan trilogy and the real-world organization Al-Qaeda. Both seem to inspire fanatical devotion in their followers, and both spring from somewhere in Asia. Both are rather ineffectively opposed by the CIA. Both are driven by a hatred of the modern world, and especially Gotham City/New York City. Both have a philosophy that, whatever its underpinnings, is in the end nihilistic. Both have strong leaders with many abilities and good training. And both seem to require more than the neighborhood cop as a solution. In TDKR Batman, Gordan, Catwoman, and the police of Gotham rise to defeat the League, while in the real world we have relied mainly on Seal Team 6 and a vast fleet of drones.
It is also possible to see TDKR as an analogue to the cold war, with the communists using nuclear weapons to hold their population hostage much as Bane uses a nuclear device to hold Gotham hostage. Bane induces the US Army to help him in imprisoning the population of Gotham by threatening to kill everyone if even one person is allowed to escape. Hamas using the population of the Gaza Strip as a shield represents another real-world analogue to Bane's actions in TDKR.
My point is simply this--TDKR has the most realistic plot of the three films, and the most plausible villainy. The line between Bane and real-world evil-doers is not all that large. Lenin and Stalin are just more successful--and more dangerous--versions of Bane. There is a lot to think about in TDKR, far more than in the first two movies.
TDKR is about falling--and rising, physically and morally. Batman falls physically, and financially, and the rises from the literal pit of despair. Catwoman also rises as a dark knight to protect Gotham, although her fall is moral, as is her rise, when she finds that she can't stomach the reality of Bane's new world that she helped create. Gordon also falls--physically, and morally, and then rises to battle Bane. And finally, one other character falls and rises, although I'll leave this one for the movie to tell.
There are a couple of spots in the film someone might question. Bruce forgives Selina Kyle a bigger wrong than seems likely, but maybe he's just fallen for her and thinks he has nothing to lose anyway. There is a scene of a large-scale fight where far fewer people on both sides fall to gunshot wounds than seems likely. And finally there is an atomic explosion far out to sea that is an iconic tall mushroom cloud rather than the flatter mushroom shape that you actually see when an A-bomb explodes near the surface of a body of water. These, and especially the shape of the mushroom cloud, are minor quibbles in a great movie.
I've seen a complaint that the nuclear bomb would produce an EMP blast that would have blacked out Gotham. It should be noted that E&M pulses are maximized by high-altitude nuclear explosions, not low-level or underwater explosions. The EMP pulse from an underwater explosion would seem to be minimal, and this may be the type of explosion shown. Also, the actual distance from Gotham the bomb explosion occurred is hard to say, but the mushroom cloud appeared many miles distant.
I'm rating TDKR as +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. I hardly noticed the two and three quarters hours passing. It is a worthy addition to other Nolan films such as INCEPTION and THE PRESTIGE. THE PRESTIGE is an excellent movie, and excellent SF, but much darker and more tragic than TDKR. Also, TDKR speaks to a wide range of important political and social issues, while THE PRESTIGE is a tale of a tragic competition between two magicians, with the main lesson being that some things should not be done. INCEPTION is hugely ambitious SF, but more muddy and confusing than TDKR, and also more tragic as well. I'd rate THE PRESTIGE a +3, and INCEPTION +2, but I'm a lot more likely to see TDKR again than the first two.
Rated PG-13, there is plenty of violence, and the story is adult in the sense that it is serious drama. There is one short dimly lit romantic scene. Some kids will not understand what is going on at times, and the plot has some tricky twists, but I think it's fine for younger teens and up. TDKR rises transcends its comic book origins to an even greater extent than the much admired DARK KNIGHT, and for this it deserves a wide audience. TDKR deserves to be nominated for best picture of the year. It is one of the most courageous and relevant films to come out of Hollywood in a long time, but alas, once the left-wing types and the anti-comic movie snobs weigh in, it will get snubbed just like THE DARK KNIGHT. [-dls]
STAN LEE'S SUPERHUMANS (television review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently watched the first episode of STAN LEE'S SUPERHUMANS. This is a show on the History Channel about "humans with superhuman powers." I put those words in quotes because having watched one episode (with four distinct stories), I am extremely skeptical.
The first story is about someone in India who can supposedly pass electrical currents through his body. However, all the demonstrations and tests are done in this guy's house, not in a laboratory, and apparently by the television show's staff, not by trained scientists.
Then they look at a blind person who supposedly uses echolocation to identify his surroundings. However, they never blindfold him for any of the tests, meaning that the viewer has to take the word of those making the show that he is, in fact, totally blind. (This is not to say you cannot "cheat" a blindfold, but a full head mask would be at least somewhat more convincing.)
As math majors, we could see specific problems with the "math wizard". Many of the computational problems shown had "tricks". For example, 85*95 is 90 squared minus 5 squared (in general, (x+y)(x-y)=x^2-y^2)), and 90 is easy to square in your head. 84*94 could use the same tricks, but it is a lot harder to calculate 89 squared minus 5 squared.
[Actually you can do 84*94 with simple operations in your head. 89^2=88*90+1=11*(8*9)*10+1=11*72*10+1=7921. To subtract 25 from that you can subtract 100 and add 75, both easy to do. That gives you 7821+75=7896. So 84*94=7896. With a little practice you can do that sort of thing very fast. -mrl]
Another problem was to multiply some number by 99. For that, you just multiply it by 100, and then subtract the number itself from the result (99*x = (100-1)*x = 100x-x). And so on.
He also did the "perpetual calendar"-- giving the day of the week for any date. Mark can do that too. The human calculator was a bit faster, but he probably does it a lot more often than Mark does.
And last was a "super-strongman" who bends hammers, fry pans, etc., However, having seen the quality of some of these things in a dollar store, I believe that someone with "normal" strength could bend them as he does. ("Normal" here does not mean your average couch potato, but someone who works out and can bench-press a hundred pounds or so.)
In the "main event", he holds back a motorcycle at full throttle. But he does this on a dirt road, and the rear (drive) wheel in a cloud of dust looks suspiciously like it's off the ground. (Why do the experiment on a dirt road instead of a parking lot? Isn't he more likely to be hit and injured by a flying pebble? Could it be to make sure there's a dust cloud to obscure it?)
And that's just the first hour!
It is clear why they made this show--with all the superhero movies coming out, there is a clearly an audience for this sort of thing, especially with Stan Lee hosting it. He has a co-host who is billed as "the world's most flexible man". His talent, at least, seems to be real, but I saw a street performer in Zimbabwe who was just as flexible, so I suspect it is not a unique talent.
One might ask why this show is on the History Channel. The answer is that the only thing historical about the History Channel these days is the idea that they would concentrate on history. (American Movie Classics does not show only American films, and Arts & Entertainment has no art left either.)
The show's web page is at http://www.history.com/shows/stan-lees-superhumans.
[It is actually kind of a fun show to watch, because you can try to figure out how they could fake the demonstration. A fair percentage you can see how it is done. Hammerhead is a professional wrestler who claims to be able to drive a nail through a 2-by-4 block of wood with just his forehead. Just before he does it he puts sheet metal on top of the block to make the feat even harder. I'd bet you a nickel his block of wood has been hollowed out down to something like an eighth of an inch floor. He is driving a large nail with his forehead, but it is probably going though a soft piece of sheet metal, a big air pocket, and a very thin floor to the block. Still that would be hard to do, but this guy is a professional wrestler. Stan Lee calls this "proof that there are super-humans around us." What a load of duck tires! -mrl]
TRUE WOLF (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary covers the life of Koani, a wolf raised by humans Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide. TRUE WOLF is the story of what humans learned from her and her impact on the program to reintroduce wolves to the Northern Rockies of Montana and the controversy that arose from that program. Koani became a sort of ambassador of the wolves and an educational tool, countering the wolf-fear effect of countless fairy tales, fables, and werewolf movies. In a general sense the film examines larger issues of conflict, particularly issues that raise fear and unreasoning hatred. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Koani was a wolf foster-parented by humans Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide. (I think we are never told anything about Koani's real parents.) She was raised not as a pet and not to be released, but as close as possible to wild. From the start Pat and Bruce were unsure they could meet the challenges of raising a wild wolf and it was clear Koani was going to need fulltime attention. Young wolves in the wild are always accompanied and Koani was not ready to be left alone for a single minute. Raising a wolf is a lot harder than Pat and Bruce expected, but it was overwhelmingly more successful than the similar project of the raising of a chimpanzee documented in 2011's PROJECT NIM.
The film moves on to the controversy of wolves in Montana. Much of the population is militantly opposed to the reintroduction of wolves. We see political demonstrations showing the virulent hatred of some people for the canines. One placard from the wolf- haters proclaims, "The WOLF is the SADDAM HUSSEIN of the ANIMAL WORLD." Ron Gillette of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition claims that the wolves kill everything in and area: prey, predators, and then each other. This certainly seems in contradiction of most of what we have seen of Koani. Although in one sequence, when Koani is told to get off the couch and go to bed for the night, the wolf reacts with a growling show of fierceness, but it appears to be a completely empty threat. In all scenes but that she appears to be as affectionate as a dog.
Koani was brought to schoolrooms to show children that she at least is nothing to fear. This is in direct contradiction to what the children are told at home about wolves. The film discusses how to manage the dissonance of trying to teach children in direct contradiction to their parents' teaching. The anti-wolf people even martial Biblical verse to argue against the wolves. One vitriolic meeting with a local anti-wolf contingent looks like it is going to bring real physical harm to Koani until the young daughter of one of the attendees defuses the situation by speaking for the wolf.
The film follows the unknowingly political life of Koani and the wolf's personal life with her dog companion Indy. Pat and Bruch bring Koani to 1400 education programs with a combined attendance of 200,000 people. But as compelling as seeing the wolf is, the film is at its best when discussing the general issue of overcoming the hatred of adversaries and the prejudices that the adversaries' children have learned from their parents. It is true, however, that Pat and Bruce depended heavily on the charisma of a friendly, well-behaved wolf. TRUE WOLF is intelligent and touchingly written and directed by Rob Whitehair. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. The film opens in NYC on August 17 at Cinema Village. A national release will follow later.
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/true_wolf_2012/
IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary of the life of Theodore Herzl is full of information and at the same time is disappointingly dry and un- engaging. It is essentially just a long article, perhaps like an encyclopedia entry, that tells us the facts about Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Co-written and directed by Richard Trank, it gives the viewers the facts but fails to make the character live and breathe for us. Narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley and with Christoph Waltz reading Herzl's writings, it tells us how the anti- Semitism in Europe, particularly the Dreyfus Affair, inspired Herzl to will the creation of a Jewish state. And as Herzl said, "If you will it, it is no dream." Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Who was Theodor Herzl? It is a name we do not hear a lot today. The story of his life is told in the documentary IT IS NO DREAM. He was born Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl and was a journalist and playwright born in Austro-Hungary. His family moved to Vienna where he studied law. But he could not go far in the legal profession because of strict limits on Jews in the law profession. He turned to writing plays with mixed success. Though some of his plays achieved acclaim his most steady income was as a journalist for the Neue Freie Presse. But he was horrified when news of the Dreyfus Affair in France was spread across Europe. On no evidence a Jewish captain was made a scapegoat in a French political scandal. He was sentenced to Devil's Island for life. Having suffered from anti-Jewish bigotry, Herzl was much agitated from the case and recognized that it was very possible that this hate could be focused on the Jews of Europe, a prediction that came true. The solution he decided upon was that Jews must leave Europe and have a homeland of their own where they would not face anti-Jewish bigotry. This film tells of his campaign to make the Jewish State a reality. IT IS NO DREAM tells of Herzl's efforts including how he met with many of the politically important of his day and of his frustrations. Not the least of which was that his own wife remained all her days negative on his concept of restoring a homeland for the Jews at the site of the Biblical homeland.
Sadly, the filmmakers could not fully perform the difficult trick of involving the viewer in the humanity of this stiff-seeming man with an air of formality and a bush of moustache and beard hiding his facial expression. We hear what he had to say, read by the distinguished voice of Christoph Waltz, but are not caught up in it. This film has little passion, even when showing photographs the victims of pogroms. The approach seems to be more one of putting the dry information in front of the viewer. Careful attention was probably paid to what facts would be revealed but little to how this information would be visualized. If Herzl was speaking in a particular building the camera shows us the facade of the building as it is today. Yes, it is something on the screen, but it hardly does much for the narrative. The visuals needed more thought and imagination. Perhaps there are some stories that are better for the viewer to see dramatized than to hear them told. Ben Kingsley, who is the main narrator, just seems to be dispassionately reading an article appropriate for an encyclopedia. As an example for how this sort of thing can be made engaging I can recommend last year's SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS.
IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL was directed and co- written by RICHARD TRANK. It was also co-written by Rabbi Marvin Hier the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The film is an important one. The anti-Semitism that inspired and horrified Herzl is rising again in Europe and elsewhere. We hear surprisingly little of Theodor Herzl, a man who lived just forty-four years but whose dream really transformed the Middle East. A biography is needed, but it needs to be one that would make us understand the man. It needed to go beyond just telling us who the man was. A film is needed more vivid is needed. I rate IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2094856/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I had read a few Discworld novels in somewhat random order, but for some reason I decided to read my way through the entire series (in the order they were written). Each one has a lot of lines that would end up in the "Quotes" section of the IMDb, but it is not until MORT by Terry Pratchett (ISBN 978-0-061-02068-1), the fourth in the series, that Pratchett seems to have hit his stride.
One memorable line here is reminiscent of the Japanese reaction to the eating habits of the first Westerners they encountered. The inn in Ankh-Morpok serves "conventional food like flightless bird embryos, minced organs in intestine skins, slices of hog flesh, and burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats." Thinks about it. (What the Japanese were horrified by was the idea of taking cow secretions, congealing them, and spreading the result on bread.)
THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne (ISBN 978-0-451-52941-1) is full of problems, even before you look at the bad translations. As everyone has noted, for example, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1869) and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1874) both have Captain Nemo, but THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND takes place during the American Civil War, and Nemo dies at the end, while 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1869) takes place many years later but Nemo is definitely alive.
But there is also a meteorological problem. During a storm, the castaways take off in a balloon from Richmond, Virginia. They are unable to steer the balloon, so the wind carries them. When they finally land, they are at 36 degrees south, 150 degrees west. Just what winds are there that would carry them to that spot? The prevailing winds over most of the United States are from the west, and along the Atlantic coast storms tend to travel up the coast in a northeasterly direction. They seem more likely to have made landfall in Iceland or Ireland rather than the South Seas. An American author is unlikely to have made such an error, but Verne probably was not familiar with North American wind patterns.
THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT by Fredric Brown (ISBN 0-87923-597-7) is Fredric Brown's first (and perhaps best-known) mystery novel. Published in 1947, it reads like a Heinlein juvenile of a decade later, but with the sexual content of later Heinleins (complete with hints of incest no less!). Not that there is anything explicit, of course--this was a mainstream novel in 1948. But it is clear that at that time writers had more leeway in the mystery genre than in the science fiction genre.
The first person protagonist is an eighteen-year-old boy whose father has been murdered. He teams up with his carny uncle to try to catch the murderer (is there any more classic pairing in juvenile fiction than the orphaned boy and the mentor uncle?). Along the way, he finds out more about his father than he ever suspected, and in general fulfills all the tropes of the classic juvenile novel. It had a certain hard-boiled element from the uncle's interactions with people, but it is not likely to satisfy someone looking for Sam Spade or even Philip Marlowe. But science fiction fans might well find this non-science-fiction work by a classic science fiction author of interest.
(One interesting coincidence is that one of the gangsters in THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT is named Dutch Reagan. It seems unlikely that Brown would have bothered to name a character after someone who was then a minor movie star, or that he would even know that "Dutch" had been Ronald Reagan's nickname, but to the modern reader it cannot help but evoke the 40th President.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I love to go to Washington--if only to be near my money. --Bob HopeTweet
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