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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/21/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 12, Whole Number 1720
Table of Contents
Faster-Than-Light Drive May be Possible:
"A Starship Enterprise-style warp drive could be a real possibility, according to a non-profit group of scientists and engineers.
Computer models have shown that it's theoretically possible to achieve faster than light travel by warping spacetime in a bubble around a starship--exploiting a loophole in Einstein's Theory of Relativity."
Full article at http://tinyurl.com/void-ftl.
The Rich Get Richer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was listening to a song that went "Hallelujah, c'mon get happy. Get ready for the Judgment Day." I am a little bemused about the theology behind this song. The implication seems to be that if you are unhappy and unfortunate in this life, Judgment will go against you and you will be unfortunate in the next life also. The people who are fortunate currently should be rewarded and made even more fortunate. It's amazing an old song like that can so well sum up today's extreme right-wing policy. [-mrl]
Ending the Hugo Award for the Best DOCTOR WHO Episode of the Year: An SF Polemic (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
[Note: this issue we will have two editorials. First a piece by frequent contributor Dale Skran, then an editorial-length response from me. -mrl]
The 2012 Hugo awards have just been announced, and the DOCTOR WHO Episode "The Doctor's Wife" won Best DOCTOR WHO Episode of the Year. The 2nd place was taken by "The Girl Who Waited," and the 3rd place by "A Good Man Goes to War," also a DOCTOR WHO episodes. This Hugo was once given to non-DOCTOR WHO dramatic presentations, but since this has not happened in a while, the term "Short Form Hugo" will no longer be used, and instead was replaced by "Best DOCTOR WHO Episode of the Year."
In 2011 the winner of the "Best DOCTOR WHO Episode of the Year" was "The Pandorica Opens/ Big Bang." In 2010 the winner was "The Waters of Mars." In 2009 something by some oddball named Whedon (who may have directed some successful movie lately) won. In 2008 the DOCTOR WHO award winner was "Blink." In 2007 the DOCTOR WHO award winner was "The Girl in the Fireplace." In 2006 the DOCTOR WHO award winner was "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances."
It is too painful to continue. I submit to you that DOCTOR WHO was *not* the best SF TV show during the entire period from 2006 to 2012 with the exception of one program produced by this Whedon, who has the unfair advantage of being very talented and inventive. During this period, the following SF/Fantasy shows had significant runs on network and cable TV:
These are just the examples I can come up quickly. I'm not going to claim that every episode of every show listed above was Hugo- worthy, but some of them certainly were. DOLLHOUSE was a very imaginative and risky show. FRINGE had some excellent episodes. I didn't like how LOST ended, but the ride was great. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and STARGATE had strong episodes. It's shameful that a show as excellent as EUREKA has never even been nominated for the Hugo. I could go on, but it makes more sense to seek some understanding of how the Best Dramatic Presentation--Short Form became the Best DOCTOR WHO Episode.
This is strictly speculation, but short of a massive growth of British fandom, coupled with a massive collapse of non-British fandom, the root issue most probably is the fact that the current rules for the short form call for the nomination of a named one- hour episode, and not a series as a whole. This makes the nomination process quite cumbersome, and tends to dilute the fandom for each series over a large number of episodes. In fact, the better the series the more likely that there will be many good episodes, with a few fans nominating each one. Somehow, DOCTOR WHO fans have gotten around this issue. I have nothing against DOCTOR WHO fans, and, *gasp*, I must confess that I am a member of a DOCTOR WHO fan club, mainly because it is the only local SF group in my area that is active. And hey--they publish a useful and interesting newsletter!
Again, speculation on my part, but it would not be too far fetched to find that a modicum of organization by DOCTOR WHO fans allows votes to flow to a few top episodes. It is also likely that the appearance of Neil Gaiman as a DOCTOR WHO writer has brought in new fans and increased the quality of the writing. Regardless of the reason for Whosian supremacy, the current approach is too easy for organized groups to log-roll. It is time to return the short form Hugo to its original intent--to honor the best SF television series. The language needed to implement this change is simple:
The Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation Short Form will be given to the best series of programs meeting the following criteria:
That's it--it's all we need to restore truth and justice to the SF world. We are asking fans for a list of their favorite SF TV shows, without regard for specific episode names or whether the entire season fit into the previous year. You can still campaign for a series, but the named episode dilution effect will be removed. If DOCTOR WHO continues to win, so be it. But at least other series will have a chance. At least DOCTOR WHO will only fill one nomination slot! If DOCTOR WHO wins for another 6 years in a row after these changes, I will be reduced to proposing a new Hugo-- Best SF Series Short Form that is not DOCTOR WHO!
Meanwhile, I urge those who agree with me to not vote a DOCTOR WHO episode with a place on the Hugo ballot until these changes are made. This will have the effect of voting against DOCTOR WHO in all possible circumstances. Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!
Apologia 1: I have been holding back on sending this essay to the MTVOID for a while because I felt a bit troubled in that I have not seen many of recent the Hugo winning DOCTOR WHO episodes. I have seen a lot of DOCTOR WHO over the years, and I have seen some of the more recent episodes. I just don't think that on the whole, they are very good SF, or very interesting to watch. However, I was finally persuaded that I should send the essay in anyway in the interest of promoting discussion. This has the happy advantage that I can skip watching the recent winners of the Hugo for the Best DOCTOR WHO episode of the year.
Apologia 2: As I you may be aware, I am a regular viewer of TORCHWOOD, which *is* a DOCTOR WHO spin-off. All I can say in my defense is that whatever is good in DOCTOR WHO has been drained into Jack Harkness and made much better in TORCHWOOD. I consider the British SF program SURVIVORS one of the all-time great SF TV series. I also enjoyed PRIMEVAL, another recent British SF show. I adduce these facts to demonstrate that I don't have some deep- seated animus toward British TV or actors. [-dls]
Mark Weighs In on DOCTOR WHO (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the guest editorial above Dale Skran wrote about the apparent stranglehold that the program DOCTOR WHO has on the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo Award. This is a complaint that I have heard from Dale and others previously. The question is, what change if any is needed to the Hugo rules.
Dale is an avid fan of several television series, and in his article he gave many examples of what he considers are good science fiction TV series. He said that DOCTOR WHO could not be the series with the best episodes every single year.
I will give my view on this issue, though I do not have a dog in this fight. And then again I do. I am not involved because I largely do not watch science fiction television series. I do not get the BBC America Channel so could not see the current DOCTOR WHO episodes. And while several of the TV series that Dale mentioned I could have seen with my cable package, I do not generally follow any TV series at all. I watch feature films and some PBS. What I do watch I watch on DVD too late to vote on it for the Hugos. So in general I do not vote in the Dramatic Short Form category because I have not seen enough to make an intelligent voting decision. I became much more involved with the Hugo and what it represents during the twelve years Evelyn was nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo twelve years in a row and lost every single year to the same person. So it basically is the same issue that Dale is bringing up.
I think the general assumption is that for each category there is a best candidate for that Hugo (considering "No Award" as a candidate). The Hugo voting is a process of determining the best candidate. And some also believe that the process, if fair, will not pick the same winner every year. Those are reasonable statements of how people approach the Hugos. Personally I do not think any of these statements are true. In each category the Hugo is awarded to the candidate that the most people want to see win. That does not say much about the actual quality of the nominated work that year. It says that the work had visibility and the electorate liked it. It need not be the best piece of science fiction. In fact what makes a work actually good are a large number of possible virtues. That makes choice of the winner highly subjective. It is highly unlikely that one candidate is really better than another in every single aspect. That means that you cannot say absolutely that any one nominee is better than another for all people's tastes.
I feel Dale's pain that what may be superior pieces of science fiction from TV series may be losing to inferior science fiction from DOCTOR WHO year after year. But I think Dale is making the situation worse for himself by interpreting the Hugo as an award for the best science fiction. DOCTOR WHO is winning year after year because it is succeeding in delivering the greatest amount of science fiction pleasure to the greatest number of voters in a proper interval of time. You cannot determine quality democratically. You can only determine popularity by a vote. It is a misinterpretation of the Hugo to assume that the voting picks the best nominee. It chooses which nominee has delivered the most pleasure. And in theory that really can be DOCTOR WHO year after year.
What frequently happens in voting situations in which the same candidate wins year after year is that that candidate disqualifies himself or herself for a number of years to give another candidate a chance to win. It is a noble thing to do and totally wrong- headed. Once the leading contender disqualifies himself or herself, nobody else can win either. Oh, someone else can get a Hugo rocket for their fireplace and it can claim to be for best such-and-such, but it is really for second-best. Even if that nominee would have won, that is no longer possible. Even if the super-nominee would not have won that year, it will be assumed that he or she would have. Rare is the year I cannot find a film I think is better than the one that wins in Best Dramatic Work--Long Form. I generally it is seen by too few people to make actually win.
I guess my response to Dale is that it is quite possible that for several years straight DOCTOR WHO has given the greatest science- fictional pleasure to the greatest number. It need not be the very best science fiction. The first "Star Wars" film was really bad science fiction but good entertainment, and it pleased a lot of people. That is not the same thing as delivering really stimulating ideas, but delivering a lot of enjoyment is something that comes close to be determinable by poll. For myself, I do not know much beyond broad strokes what makes one piece of science fiction better than another. The idea of putting to a vote what is the best piece of science fiction is at best horrific. Large crowds do not decide that. While it bothered me year after year to see Evelyn lose out on her Hugo to the same person, I would not have changed a thing. Barring outright cheating I think the person who gets the rocket is the person who should. [-mrl]
[I will just say that as someone who followed the mechanics of the splitting of the Hugo, the chances of splitting it again into "Best Series Episode" and "Best One-Shot Short" are vanishingly small. The split--which was crafted over several years--was specifically by length, not by medium (e.g., movie vs. TV). The irony is that everyone feared it would become "The Best Buffy Episode" Hugo. -ecl]
Cataloguing Books (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I wrote in the 06/08/12 issue of the MT VOID about cataloging problems: how to catalog and distinguish among various formats of books. I did not talk about magazines and other items, but my recent experience at Worldcon showed me that the problem is even bigger than I discussed.
At Worldcon, we got a paperback, some trade paperbacks, a hardback, an advance reading copy, some magazines, a fanzine, a booklet advertising a science fiction cruise that contained half a dozen science fiction stories, four "samplers" from an Italian publisher, each containing a half-dozen science fiction stories from a larger work (one sampler was Latin translations of stories and autographed by one of the authors!), and a Worldcon souvenir book and pocket program book. Thank goodness we did not get any audio books, CD-ROM discs, or some new, as-yet-unthought-of (by me, anyway) format. [-ecl]
SUPER HERO PARTY CLOWN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An amiable, slight, and overly familiar story gives us a boy so shy he cannot talk to the girl he likes without wearing a costume. Eugene wears the superhero suit of Arachnid-Man at children's parties. He is not really a tough dude, but plays one when hired for kids. He finds he is pitted against a rival for a cute girl's affections and the rival becomes another party clown superhero. Eugene has to be a hero both in the real world and as Arachnid-Man. Jeremy M. Inman writes and directs his own premier film. The film has a story and it moderately works on the screen, but there is not enough original here to attract much attention. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Eugene Stimpson (played by Randy Blair) believes that kids need heroes. He is doing his part by dressing up as Arachnid-Man for children's parties. In real life he is shy and hopes to have a chance with Emily Talbot (Shelby Barnes), a girl he has had a flame for since high school. She does not even seem to know he is alive, but he becomes friendly with the Arachnid-Man who was hired for her little brother's birthday party. Eugene is afraid to tell her that he is the secret identity of Arachnid-Man. But his high school rival Todd Walker (Adam Sessa) gets a job from the same company playing Captain Tremendous, a superhero a lot like Captain Marvel. We have a story on two levels with the introvert Eugene rivaling Todd and Arachnid-Man against Captain Tremendous.
The non-super introvert hiding in a superhero suit is a fairly common device. We saw it in Matthew Vaughn's KICK-ASS and done well in Takashi Miike's ZEBRAMAN (2004). Guys who cannot converse with girls and need fictitious personas to communicate through go at least back to LILI (1953).
There are some problems with the screenplay that needed to be addressed. For a comedy there is little attempt at humor. The film is frequently cute, but it could have done well with a few good laughs. The comedy never rises above being just agreeable. There is a perfunctory attempt at making Eugene an idealist who thinks that being a party clown is in some ways a noble and important calling. It never works and so it is hard for the viewer to really be rooting for Eugene. Again, some stronger emotion is needed.
An important aspect of the story is that some people do not recognize that the guy in the Arachnid-Man suit is really the Eugene Stimpson whom they know well. Sadly, it might have worked in a comic book but on the screen we can see the shape of Eugene's head, hear his voice, and see how tall he is. It becomes obvious to the viewer that the spandex costume simply would not make Eugene unrecognizable.
Writer/director Inman makes the mistake of showing us scenes from what is supposed to be a classic Arachnid-Man film. Unfortunately, he has neither the talent nor the budget to create these clips properly so they look like they really came from a blockbuster. These are supposed to be clips of a highly polished Hollywood comic book film. It was gutsy for Inman to attempt to make these clips, but he would have been better off keeping them off-screen so the viewer could imagine they were like something out of SPIDER-MAN.
There is some minor chemistry between Blair and Barnes, but the emotional level is so small and slight that it never engages the viewer. Even the title could use more pizzazz. Maybe it could have been called something like SUPERHEROES FOR HIRE. The viewer is less likely to say "YEAH!" when the film is over and more likely to just say "OK." I rate SUPER HERO PARTY CLOWN a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. SUPER HERO PARTY CLOWN comes to DVD and Digital on September 25 this year.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663675/
SNOWFLAKES (letter of comment by Tom Russell):
In response to Mark's comments on snowflakes in the 09/07/12 issue, Tom Russell writes:
Good reference on snowflakes:
Body Armor (letter of comment by Jay E. Morris:
In response to Mark's comments on body armor in the 09/14/12 issue of the MT VOID, Jay E. Morris writes:
At first I thought you were on to something with the idea about body armor. But then I realized that it wouldn't be any different. Most people would complain it's too bulky or too heavy or too hot or just that the whole idea of body armor scares them. The minority that takes responsibility for themselves would wear it, except of course to those places where it's forbidden because it might upset someone. Then one day something happens and once again the individual has to place himself in harm's way to protect those who won't protect themselves. [-jem]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
ROAR! A CHRISTIAN FAMILY GUIDE TO THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by Heather Kopp with David Kopp (ISBN 978-1-59052-536-4) is not labeled as being for home schooling, but the inclusion of quizzes makes me think it is more than just a Christian guide to Narnia.
For each chapter of each Narnia book, the Kopps give a plot summary, "Grown-Up Thoughts", "Let's Talk about It", and "Wisdom for Narniacs". The first has things like:
"When Puddleglum drinks too much, his rationalizing is humorous-- 'better make sure,' 'but is it the same all the way down?' 'This'll be a test.' But it's sad, too, and a recognizable pattern for most of us. We face different giants, but we all tend to sip our way, one excuse at a time, from little test into big trouble."
The second asks children, "Have you ever been as cold as Jill and Eustace were? So cold your face turned blue? What happened?" or "How would you feel if you had to knock on a giant's door?" And the third part has the quizzes I mentioned earlier.
There are also supplementary chapters for parents which cover questions like, "Why would a Christ-follower like [C. S. Lewis] assemble such a supernatural cast of sorcerers and spell-casters to spin his stories for our children?" particularly when the Bible is so emphatic that witchcraft and sorcery are the tools of the Devil. Apparently Moses' magic and Jesus's miracles do not count as witchcraft, which makes one think that witchcraft is the tool of the Devil because if it is not the Devil, it is not witchcraft, although this is not the argument the Kopps make.
And the titles of two more chapters say it all:
"Mercy! How the Wine Doth Flow in Narnia! What was our beloved Children's author thinking? And how should Christian parents respond?"and
"Color & Culture in Narnia: When it's a story about fair-skinned good guys versus dark-skinned bad guys (and the author is white), do we have a problem?"The Narnians also smoke more than most people would like, though this is apparently less problematic than alcohol.
This might be a good book for a Sunday School or Bible camp reading of the Narnia books, but trying to take children's non-school reading and turn it into lessons seems like a bad idea. Mark claims there are two Kiplings: the good Kipling, and the Kipling they had you read in school, and I found it took years for me to actually enjoy MOBY DICK or A TALE OF TWO CITIES after having to read them in school. (However, I have always had a fond spot in my heart for JULIUS CAESAR after reading it in eighth grade.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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