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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/16/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 20, Whole Number 1728
Table of Contents
That's Sophisticated (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was leafing through a magazine and they have an ad for--I kid you not--James Bond 007, a new fragrance for men. And their slogan is "Dangerously sophisticated." I hate to say it, but that boat has sailed. I remember kids playing with James Bond guns and James Bond invisible ink. James Bond has not been a symbol of sophistication in a long, long time. I can see if they give it a name that is a French-sounding word that nobody has ever heard that might be sophisticated. "James Bond" as a name for a fragrance is one step more sophisticated than calling it "Andre the Giant" or "Winnie the Pooh". [-mrl]
Storm Diary, Part 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been asked by several people what my storm status was or what Hurricane Sandy was like in New Jersey. I am just going to publish some of my response in the VOID. The last part left me at the height of the storm and very nearly at its width.
10/29/12 7:52:45 PM
I was trying to look out the patio windows to see if I could see anything. I could see very little. It is dark out there. As I started to turn away the wind came up and there was a bang on the window that shook the house. The wind had picked up a limb of a tree and throwing against [P.S. or dropping it on] the house. With a flashlight through the window I could see the tree limb. But it looked like it was not standing on anything. All I could see of it was four or more feet off the ground. Evelyn went over and looked out the kitchen window. The thing is at least 25 feet long and we still are not sure we are seeing all of it. [P.S. It was a limb of a tree standing vertically 27 feet and it is about 25 feet wide in branch spread. It was not floating above the patio, obviously. It was a horizontal branch off of a vertical tree limb.] Outside the wind is rising again. On the radio they say the wind is getting up to 85 mile per hour. 156,000 houses are apparently without electricity in New Jersey and mine is one of them.
A local radio station has people calling in reporting seeing green flashes in the sky. Now isn't that a nice WAR OF THE WORLDS-like touch? I had seen flashes and assumed they were lightning. But I missed that they were green. Someone else called into the radio station saying that the green was copper. When a substation copper transformer overloads and vaporizes and melts down you get a green flash from vaporizing copper. The green flashes are copper explosions that are plunging the area covered by the substation into darkness. There's a pleasant thought. Well, it is all disturbing. So why does it seem so amazing at the same time.
We spent our time listening to news coverage of the storm. Evelyn went to bed about 9 PM. If she cannot do anything about the storm she wants to sleep through it. I keep myself up a bit longer to listen for damage reports. Just to feel I had done it I open the door a little way and put my arm out into a genuine hurricane. It is just a very strong moist wind. I wanted to stay up to the end of the passing, which they said was 10 PM.
Until this is all over most of our meals will be ones that require neither heating nor refrigerating. Breakfast after the storm was cereal with powdered milk I mixed up just for this meal. I will not keep it to avoid spoilage. Lunch was cold pizza. For a little extra protein I ripped off the crust and spread it with peanut butter. Most of my meals will not be even this good. Between breakfast and lunch I went out back and fed the backyard squirrels. There were about six, a big crowd for us. They must have been hungry after what was probably a frightening night for them. An hour later we went out and pulled the tree limb off the house. [That's Evelyn and I, not the squirrels and I.] It was big and heavy, but gravity was in our favor. At least something was.
After lunch we went out to look at the neighborhood to "appreciate the situation." There was a lot of situation to appreciate. Most of this was looking at people getting rid of fallen trees. There was a tree with an 18-inch diameter trunk that had fallen and was blocking our street. The community association got people out to cut it up with chainsaws. Surprisingly tall trees have very shallow root systems. It almost looks like the tree is on a stand and the stand fell over. The roots must not have gone more than a foot down. I suppose these days that is considered an okay thing for a tree to do. In my day, tree roots went down several yards and then started to spread out. That just does not happen any more. Today a tree puts down a foot or two of roots and immediately starts looking for trees to pollinate. They figure they are too big to fall. Then a strong wind comes, the tree realizes too late how foolish it has been.
One of our neighbors estimated that power would be out until Thanksgiving. There is a lot of damage to fix and with a 900-mile diameter disk of destruction there will be a lot of competition for people who can do the power repairs.
Meanwhile it will be cold food and no refrigeration.
This was supposed to be Halloween. The Governor has stepped in and said that Trick or Treat night will be Monday, November 5. For us this means that we still may be called upon to share our Halloween candy with the little brats who come to the door. Just nothing is going in our favor.
Any Witches' Sabbaths scheduled would also get equally delayed. That is with the approval of a lower authority. But most of those are Walpurgis Nacht, April 30 anyway.
Breakfast was half a can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans. I find the perfect way to serve them is right from the can at just at precisely room temperature. (That was irony.)
So there I am on Halloween more or less a prisoner of my house. I will continue next issue. [-mrl]
SKYFALL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: James Bond is after a stolen list of MI6 agents who have been placed in terrorist cells. At the same time all of MI6 is under attack from someone who has access to the inside of the organization. Bond is fighting an enemy that has his knowledge and skills. This is a strong, fast, and sexy action story that gives us something different from the Bond films we have seen before. SKYFALL has a darker tone than we have seen in the past from the series. Sam Mendes directs a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
DR. NO had a flamboyant villain plotting a spectacular crime-- toppling US rockets--and James Bond got in the way. GOLDFINGER had a flamboyant villain plotting a spectacular crime--destroying the gold in Fort Knox--and James Bond got in the way. THUNDERBALL had a flamboyant villain plotting a spectacular crime--holding Miami for ransom with a nuclear device--and James Bond got in the way. That is a plot, repeated so many times in Bond films, is a standard template for a film in the series. But notice I skipped a film. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE had SPECTRE trying to get a cryptographic device and to embarrass the British Secret Service. While the story was progressing the first-time viewer was not sure where it would be going. In FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE Bond was just living by his wits and trying to keep himself and a Russian cipher clerk alive. That was a believable plot for an adult spy thriller. Because it avoided the standard plot it was considered one of the best Bond films. It was a story that was easy to believe. Few Bond films depart from the template story, but in SKYFALL there is no giant spectacular crime for Bond to avert. The villain has the capability to do great damage, but he has something else in mind. Carrying out a vendetta is more what he wants. That does not require much suspension of disbelief from the viewer. It helps to make SKYFALL one of the more intelligent Bond thrillers. SKYFALL is Daniel Craig's second Bond story (his first two films comprised a single story) and the writers chose to again avoid the overworked spectacular crime plot and instead to give us a story with an unpredictable arc.
Opening the film is a very long chase set in Turkey and featuring motorcycles and trains. Bond is trying to recover a computer hard drive that contains a list that could prove very damaging to MI6 if released publicly. And that is just what his enemy is doing in a manner like WikiLeaks. Soon Bond finds he is facing a new kind a villain, a foe who has all of Bond's training and ability and who additionally is a master of hacking in cyberspace. This man strikes at the very heart of MI6 with grudges that hit very close to home.
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis writing CASINO ROYALE thumbed their noses at even the most established tropes by having Bond ask if he looked like he would care if his martini was shaken or stirred. For me, anyway, that was the best line in an entire series that always prided itself on its bon mots. It suggested that a lot of the Bond formula nonsense was going away. SKYFALL brings even more distance from the pop-art Bond of the 1960s and 1970s. Bond gets only two gadgets from the new and incidentally very youthful Q. He gets a gun that only he can fire and a radio for tracking. Gone are the days when Bond was in some strange situation and he by luck happened to have just the right tool in his pocket, a tool he never had before and would never have again. These "just the right weapon" contrivances are mostly gone from the formula.
One thing that does need to change but has not is Bond's most useful weapon, the almost supernatural luck Bond could always count on. In GOLDFINGER, Bond overhears just the right phrase that Bond can use to save his life. In THUNDERBALL, Bond just happens to run into people involved in stealing a nuclear device. The super-luck plot contrivances should have been dropped overboard like the gadgets and the martini preferences. In SKYFALL, Bond cracks the whole case because he happens to find a gambling chip and guesses that it is important. Much more of the plot is still driven by Bond's overwhelming luck. And the writers have gotten so blasé about the whole matter that early in the film Bond is apparently killed, and then without bothering to give any explanation, the script calls for him just to be alive again. The script never bothers to tell us how he escaped death. He just lucked out. Bond's over-reliance on writer-provided luck has always been a serious flaw of the series. And even James Bond's luck could not prevent Daniel Craig from aging six years since CASINO ROYALE. There are several comments that Bond is getting older and slowing down. A lot of Bond fans will be disappointed when Craig is too old to play an effective Bond.
Just to create some continuity with the series there are numerous memory jogs from the older Bond films. Names like "Moneypenny" appear again, and Bond's old Aston Martin plays a large role in this film. That is fine. Bond films are allowed to borrow from themselves. However, the film also does a lot of borrowing from other films that had previously copied Bond. The opening chase sequence, twenty minutes in length, is strongly influenced by the Bourne films. Javier Bardem is a very different villain for the Bond films, but his mannerisms and bizarre speech borrow a lot from Bardem's Anton Chigurh in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Even more odd, the final act of this story seems to crib from Sam Peckinpaw's STRAW DOGS.
Daniel Craig cements his reputation as the best and the most ruthless of the screen Bonds. But we see him facing really different situations. A large middle section takes Bond to an exotic and challenging locale that Bond has never seen before, the London Underground at rush hour. Dame Judy Dench (sadly losing her eyesight and heading toward retirement) is given her juiciest role in any of her Bond films. Ralph Fiennes seems to have a minor and dispensable role in the story, but it is clear by the end of the film why we see so much of him. Albert Finney is almost unrecognizable in a role that did not require an actor of his talent. On the other side of the camera Daniel Kleinman had created all the title sequences from GOLDENEYE to SKYFALL with the exception of A QUANTUM OF SOLACE. His style does lend an air of class to the proceedings.
I like the new Bond, who is a more believable character than the previous Bonds. He would have no place in a John le Carré story, but he is serious, and I like my Bonds serious. This is not a perfect Bond film, but it is one of the best. I rate SKYFALL a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1074638/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/skyfall/
With each new Bond film I give my ordering of films in the series from the best to the worst. This may not be consistent with my previous listings since my opinion of films varies with time.
1 CASINO ROYALE (2006) 2 FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE 3 SKYFALL 4 ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 5 QUANTUM OF SOLACE 6 THUNDERBALL 7 DR NO 8 LICENSE TO KILL 9 GOLDFINGER 10 THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH 11 FOR YOUR EYES ONLY 12 YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE 13 THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS 14 THE SPY WHO LOVED ME 15 OCTOPUSSY 16 TOMORROW NEVER DIES 17 GOLDENEYE 18 DIE ANOTHER DAY 19 DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 20 THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN 21 A VIEW TO A KILL 22 MOONRAKER 23 LIVE AND LET DIE
[CASINO ROYALE (1967) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN are not listed because they are not part of the Bond series.]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (ISBN 978-1-937007-16-4) was the discussion book planned for our group this month. The meeting was re-scheduled, but since I had already read the book, I'll publish my comments now.
TRIGGERS has an intriguing premise, but one that does not bear much thinking about. In a hospital, a psychiatrist is using a machine to access and affect a patient's memories at the same time that the President of the United States is being operated on one floor below. Some sort of electromagnetic pulse affects the machine and produces a field in a sphere with a radius of sixteen feet. Everyone in that field is equally affected; everyone outside is untouched. Problem 1: Fields do not work this way.
The field links people's minds together, but not reciprocally or transitively. That is, A can access B's memories, and B can access C's, but B cannot access A's, nor can A access C's. Problem 2: There is no explanation for why it should work in this highly artificial way. And this connection is on-going; memories formed after the pulse are equally accessible. Problem 3: There is no explanation for this, either.
The FBI goes to a terrorism suspect's house where they find a computer screen with a Word document on it relating to the crime. What is the first thing they do? Well, one of them decides to find the directory the file is in, see if there is a backup copy there, and open the backup copy. Problem 4: The idea that the computer of a terrorist might have hidden detectors to wipe the disks (or melt the computer or even blow up the house) if someone tries to do something unauthorized, or that the last access time of a file might be important, does not seem to occur to them.
And without going into detail on the rest of the story, let me just say that I found the ending both unexplained and unsatisfactory. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Nothing begins, and nothing ends, that is not paid with moan; for we are born in other's pain, and perish in our own. --Francis ThompsonTweet
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