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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/04/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 27, Whole Number 1735
Table of Contents
Online Tour the International Space Station:
This is a 25-minute tour of the International Space Station pointed out by Sherry Glotzer:
Why We Won't Be Seeing Robotic Cars Anytime Soon:
According to one article, the problems are legal rather than technical:
Political Mystery (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The public is asking, "Is Congress up to fixing the deficit? You do not really know. You do not want to know what Congress is really up to. [-mrl]
DECAY: Zombies Meet High-Energy Particles (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, okay, it appears that physicists working on the LHC, the CERN Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, had just a little too much time on their hands waiting for particle physics tests like looking for the Higgs boson. They looked around the LHC and decided it looked like a spooky enough place that a zombie move could be set there. They wanted actors who would work really cheaply and looked a little off-kilter. So they dredged the bottom of the barrel and came up with Ph.D. physicists for actors. Scary. The film DECAY is feature length, 75 minutes long.
Read about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_(film)
Comments on THINGS TO COME (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[These comments were originally made while watching the 1936 film THINGS TO COME directed by William Cameron Menzies and were sent to a film discussion mailing list as part of an on-line discussion of the film THINGS TO COME. A link to the film in YouTube is at the bottom of this article.]
Adolf Hitler (who incidentally was a big fan of fantasy film--his favorite film was KING KONG) used THINGS TO COME to show the Luftwaffe what he wanted them to be able to do in bombing London.
The question of whether "war" toys were too much for children is echoed today in the question of whether videogames are too violent.
Wells was prescient to see that pestilence would become a serious threat again. In his time real progress was being made against disease. But he probably never appreciated how ripping up the earth would cause many of the pestilences.
The idea of tearing out all the wealth of the planet sounds a lot more ominous today than it did in 1936. Wells never doubts that strip-mining the planet and raping the environment may not be such a great idea. Of course he was thinking that issues like global warming were just engineering challenges without politics and selfish opportunities getting in the way. Modern audiences may get a chill from Wells' super-machines tearing out the Earth's wealth.
I think underground cities with artificial lighting would not be as pleasant as Wells seems to think they would be. People really need to see the sun. But Wells tells us this works as a little kid says that life gets lovelier and lovelier. Somehow I doubt it.
Wells must have known by the mid-1930s that a gun was a bad idea for space travel. It puts all the acceleration at the beginning of the flight and that would be fatal.
The film is really three stories of the future with a little connective tissue. The stories are: -- Everytown going to war at the start of World War II (1940) -- Everytown rescued from the rule of a warlord by a world organization of engineers, ruled by science (1970) -- The rebellion against science and progress (2054)
Wells had no ear for how people really talk. Who says "A plane once more!"?
Convenient that just The Boss dies from the Gas of Peace. Why he dies and nobody else does is never explained. In the script he does not die. It is not clear why Theotocopolis wants to put an end to progress. He seems to just oppose progress out of stubbornness. There are such people but they protest progress in the name of religion or of fear of change.
John Cabal is called an "Air Dictator." He talks about how there are to be no more bosses, but he himself will be remembered as a dictator.
I really like the final speech. The same issue is still with us today. And we usually undervalue science.
The kid we see at the beginning looking at Christmas gifts is just so apple-cheeked and cute he gives people heartburn.
The model work is a little obvious. Still the effects scenes are imaginative. There are enormous planes on a small SPFX budget.
I think Cabal's huge helmet is actually part of the plane in flight and then it seems to detach when he leaves the plane. It is unclear why he would need such a large helmet, but I guess it just looks impressive in the art design.
Matte paintings are used extensively.
Director Menzies shows us what I assume is real industrial machinery, but with special effects visually blows it up to huge proportions to give it the feel of huge mega-machines that dwarf people. Perhaps they were inspired by the huge turbines that were built at places like Hoover Dam.
There is great techno-porn in the transition sequence and beautiful machine design. People who like this techno-porn should find THE TUNNEL (1935) about building a trans-Atlantic Tunnel. See the link below.
Hyatt Hotels adopted the many-floored atrium for the design of many of the early Hyatt Regencies.
Fascinating planes and helicopters. I have never seen hobby models. Costumes seem silly.
The score by Arthur Bliss has become a popular piece of classical music played by symphony orchestras. You can find a recording of the THINGS TO COME Suite on YouTube. See the link below.
The soundtrack has been muddled because Britain used a system of recording sound that used degrees of lightness or darkness on the soundtrack of the film. The resulting recording degrades with time as the celluloid ages. In the United States the sound was encoded in the width of a white band in the soundtrack. The American approach is a much better way to encode sound and American films of the same time still have crisp sound. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and KING KONG are older than THINGS TOO COME, but the sound is much crisper and clearer. In a sense it is like the difference between analog and digital.
The enemy pilot sounds British.
Ralph Richardson was just a young actor here. He became one of the giants of British cinema. Theotocopolis is played by Cedric Hardwick who narrated the latter part of the George Pal WAR OF THE WORLDS.
The shooting script of the film was published in book form in 1935 where it somehow found its way to the Springfield, Massachusetts Public Library. I eagerly read it the day that THINGS TO COME was to be shown on the local TV late show, some time around 1963. The script is available on line. See the link at end of this article.
In the early 1960s I made a note on my calendar for Sept 21, 1966, to observe that it was the date mentioned in the movie. It was a Wednesday, by the way.
Film script: http://www.scifiscripts.com/scripts/thingstocome.txt
THINGS TO COME Suite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPPB90N_4nk
THE TUNNEL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAX7s0K4Zgg
UPRISING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In Egypt January 28, 2011, there was to be a moderate afternoon demonstration against the tyrannical president Hosni Mubarak. Three hours and then home for dinner was the plan. Things did not go quite as planned. Right under its leaders the demonstration transformed from a short protest to a popular revolution. UPRISING producer/director Fredrik Stanton's electrifying account of the Arab Spring revolt of the people of Egypt against the dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak and his corrupt regime. He tells the story with interviews and narration of the people involved. The story is uplifting but overshadowed by more recent events in Egypt. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Fredrik Stanton, who produced and directed UPRISING, is a political scientist, author of the book GREAT NEGOTIATIONS: AGREEMENTS THAT CHANGED THE MODERN WORLD and a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association. This is his first time at using the medium of cinema. He tells the story of the January 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak and the Mubarak regime. The story is told straightforwardly with witnesses--many of whom are from leaders and coordinators of the events; some are victims of the violence--giving interviews and narrating over footage taken of the remarkable incident. Stanton uses this straightforward approach gambling that the excitement of the events themselves will grab his audience. He tells a story that is compelling and exhilarating.
Hosni Mubarak was the vice-president of Egypt under Anwar Sadat and was sitting just next to Sadat when Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Immediately Mubarak declared martial law in Egypt. Generally, that is supposed to be a temporary measure to restore order in a crisis. But three decades later in 2011 Egypt still suffered under martial law and was still a military police state maintaining power against the will of the people, suppressing the people with torture and other human rights abuses readily employed. During those thirty years the United States supported the Egyptian government as a practical expedient, necessary at the moment but also alienating the Egyptian people.
The people survived as well as they could for three decades under Mubarak. But in that time the Internet came to Egypt and the government found they could not suppress it. With social media people could communicate their dissatisfaction to thousands with the Egyptian government helpless to stop it. In 2011 the Internet started communicating something else, the news that in Tunis popular protest had led to the toppling of that government. Egyptians started looking around and asking themselves, "Why not here?" Protests took to the street, particularly after the brutal murder of well-known Internet personality Khalid Said.
On the Internet there was announced what was to be a short protest, possibly three hours, but the leaders were themselves amazed at the many thousands who turned out to show their dissatisfaction. As word spread the thousands became tens and then hundreds of thousands. Christians and Muslims put aside their differences in camaraderie to form a common movement. The movement came from all classes and both genders. What started as an afternoon demonstration turned into full-fledged revolution. This is the story of how the modest protest overcame violent resistance to become a revolution that in a few short days toppled the government of Egypt. Egypt now has a new president, Mohamed Morsi.
The effects of an afternoon anti-Mubarak demonstration have changed Egyptian history for all time. The bitter irony--too recent to be discussed in the film--was that after the events of this film Morsi declared himself to be above the law and having unlimited powers "to protect the nation." The good news is that protesting worked a second time and Morsi relinquished most of that declared power, but the story continues.
The January Revolution is a story of our time. It could not have happened ten years earlier. The protests were organized and publicized using the social media. They were inspired by the similar events previously in Tunisia. That news would have been choked off from the Egyptian people in a time not much earlier. The importance of the Internet in this revolution cannot be overstated. This story is an important lesson for political leaders around the world and shows the way technology is changing politics. I rate UPRISING a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2192002/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/uprising_2012/
WAR EAGLES by Carl Macek (ISBN 978-1-932-43174-2) (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
In 1939 Merian C. Cooper, the producer and director of KING KONG, was at MGM working on a Technicolor special effects film that was intended to far outdo KING KONG. The film being made was to be called WAR EAGLES. The plot was to involve a lost race of Vikings who ride eagles the way cowboys ride horses. The Vikings riding the soaring eagles were to war with an unnamed Germanic country that was using airships to bomb the United States. The airships had rays that crashed airplanes by interfering with their electrical systems. And an American hero and his Viking friends were riding/flying eagles, animated by Willis O'Brien, to fight the menace. That was how the movie was planned.
However, that year World War II broke out and Cooper, a life-long adventurer, left filmmaking to join the Flying Tigers in China. MGM scrapped the WAR EAGLES project without Cooper. For years the film that might have been has been legendary and the subject of fan curiosity. In 2008 Carl Macek, a producer of the Robotech TV series, took what was known of the WAR EAGLES plot and wrote a novel, also called WAR EAGLES, consistent with what he knew. In 2011 David Conover and Philip J. Riley wrote the non-fiction WAR EAGLES: THE UNMAKING OF AN EPIC, which included finding more about the plotting, much of which unsurprisingly was quite different from Macek's version.
Macek's novel has become an artifact of a period before the plotting had been better researched. The novel, Macek's first, is written in a very pulpish style with one-dimensional characters. There are some anachronisms. For example, characters discuss radar, which existed at the time but was a military secret and would not likely be in common knowledge.
Macek's main character in his version of the story is Brandt. Perhaps somewhat based on Merian C. Cooper, Brandt is an Army Air Force pilot who tests a new plane endangering FDR who is giving a speech at the Worlds Fair. Having his flying privileges taken away, Brandt leaves the service and goes to work for a private aircraft company. On a publicity and exploration flight, going from pole to pole, he crashes his plane in unexplored territory and finds a lost race of Vikings who have tamed and saddled eagles to fly. Brandt has little trouble winning over the Vikings he discovers and they become close friends. The Vikings speak English and apparently Brandt wonders how this became their main spoken language. It is left as a loose thread and I don't remember it being picked up again. It was, no doubt, just an author's expedient.
One thing does become clear from Macek's novel. There is no real personality character who would have been animated for WAR EAGLES. We care about King Kong and Mighty Joe Young in their respective movies. They are each really the main characters of their films. In WAR EAGLES Brandt breaks and befriends the largest of the eagles. "Lindy", as the big eagle is named (for Charles Lindbergh), might have a little personality, but it is unlikely Cooper and O'Brien could have done much to make Lindy much of an audience attraction. Eagles are just too different from humans. And though there are dinosaurs present in the lost world of Vikings and eagles, they make only a brief appearance. The flying humans on eagle-back may be an interesting image for a few minutes of film, but Macek fails to make the story of any real interest and molding the images into a compelling story that could stand beside THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND that same year would probably have been nigh onto impossible.
People interested in film history might find some interest value in Macek's molding of the touches into a novel, but the book is pallid entertainment by itself and is perhaps a misleading look at what the result of the Cooper-O'Brien project. It is not really recommended. [-mrl]
LOST TO THE WEST: THE FORGOTTEN BYZANTINE EMPIRE THAT RESCUED WESTERN CIVILIZATION by Lars Brownworth (ISBN 978-0-307-40796-2) (book review by Greg Frederick):
I have read a number of books covering the Eastern Roman Empire, known to us today as the Byzantine Empire. This is one of the best on the subject. It begins with the founding of a divided Roman Empire under Diocletian who was wise enough to realize that the empire was too large for one man to govern. He split it into a western half and an eastern half. The eastern half consisted of present day Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. The western half consisted of Spain, Eastern North Africa, France, Italy, England and the Balkans. Each half had an Emperor and one Co-Emperor.
Diocletian kept the eastern portion for himself to rule and appointed an old and faithful drinking buddy, Maximian, to rule the western half. Diocletian also realized that past Emperors were considered first citizens after the example set by Augustus. This made them too vulnerable to be over thrown by powerful generals with the approval of the mob. Diocletian decided to link his position with religion by making himself a god and make this less likely.
Constantine, a son of Maximian, eventually fought his way to control of the entire Empire and stopped the persecution of Christians. He thought that the Empire needed a new capital which was not connected with so many years of pagan religions and the site of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) was nicely situated to take advantage of the lucrative trade routes and was also very defensible due to the geography. Constantine became a Christian late in life but he maintained control of the bishops in their decision making process as a supreme ruler and also linked his power to religion.
In A.D. 476 the Western part of the Roman Empire fell to barbarians. While Western Europe fell into the dark disarray of the feudal system and the Middle Ages; the Byzantine Empire was a shining beacon of civilization. There were advances in mathematics, art and architecture. Schools helped to improve these fields and education was provided for both genders. Virtually every level of society was literate.
The Byzantine emperors established the first uniform set of civil laws which are the basis of all modern legal practice. Starting with Emperor Justinian they took the civil laws of ancient Rome and compiled them in a logical order and established a practical method of application. The Byzantine Empire preserved the ancient knowledge and literature of the Greeks and Romans which was lost to Western Europe during the Dark Ages. Many in Western Europe even lost the ability to read or write except for some in the Church. The Byzantine Empire existed from around A.D. 325 until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. In its over 1000 year history it prevented Western Europe which was fractured into the feudal system of the Middle Ages from falling as easy prey to the much better organized and disciplined Arab Islamic forces coming out of Arabia. And later it stopped the Ottoman Turks also until it succumbed to the Turks in 1453.
After the fall of Constantinople the stored knowledge of the Greeks, and the Romans was disseminated to Western Europe which was awakening from its slumber during the Dark Ages to the dawning of the Renaissance which this stored knowledge helped to create. Also, Western Europe started to develop into an aggregation of nation states which were developing advances in many fields and became more able to defend themselves from the advance of the Ottoman Turks.
I would recommend this book to all interested in the history of this period. [-gf]
[The following podcasts may be of interest to people reading this book:
Star Travel and Space Colonization Return (magazine review by Dale L. Skran Jr.):
I have often lamented the decreased and lower quality of print media coverage on space related topics, and especially those with longer time horizons than the next NASA probe to Mars. Thus, I was especially pleased to see in the January 2013 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and the January 2013 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN a couple of really good space-related articles that dared to take the longer view of things.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN puts forward "Starship Humanity," one of the best and most realistic articles on space colonization I've seen in a long time. Written by Cameron Smith, an evolutionary biologist, the article has a delightfully long-term perspective, as well as a good deal of wisdom to dispense about space colonization. Smith assumes that, as a given, we will occupy all the plausible habitats. We will colonize not just the surface of Mars, but also build free-floating O'Neill space habitats and interstellar generation arks. He then proceeds to consider the biological implications of doing so, and ends with a meditation on the inevitability that each branch of humanity will diverge genetically. This is an article on the nuts and bolts of the biology of space colonization by a real expert that is well worth your time.
Smith closes with a final section titled "Where to Begin?" that lays out a three-part plan for the re-invigoration of work toward space colonization. The third of these points calls for an X-prize for the first livable habitat off the Earth. He concludes with a sentiment I have long agreed with, and which I shall quote here:
We must be immensely bolder than our bureaucracies. Failing that, in time we will become extinct, like everything else on Earth. As H. G. Wells wrote about the human future in 1936, it is "all the universe or nothing."
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC has a long history of good space coverage for the mass audience. Articles on space in "Nat Geo" fueled my interest in space as a young boy in the 1960s. As time has gone by, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC has covered space rather less, and seemed to become more political, focusing, perhaps understandably, on environmental issues. Thus, I was extremely happy to see in the January 2013 issue a special issue titled "Why We Explore." There are a number of interesting articles, but "Heading Off to the Stars" caught my eye, with a beautiful cover by Dana Berry showing a starship either leaving the solar system or arriving at a new world.
The actual article titled is "Crazy Far" with the subtitle "To the Stars. Do we have the right stuff to go?" by Tim Folger. The fun begins with a three-full-page foldout illustration of a starship in an alien solar system, followed by a two-full-page illustration of the inside of a starship modeled on an O'Neill colony, both created by well known SF artist Stephen Martiniere. Folger provides a great survey of the exciting things happening in the world of space, including the SpaceX Falcon 9 reaching the space station for the first time, Virgin Galatic's space tourism efforts, and Planetary Resources plans for asteroid mining. This is coupled with solid technical material on the kind of technologies, ranging from nuclear pulse (Project Orion) to nuclear fusion to antimatter to solar sails that might allow us to someday travel to the stars.
Folger's final paragraph contains a dollop of wisdom worth repeating, "The task isn't figuring out right now how to design a starship; it's continuing to build the civilization that will one day build a starship." He concludes with a quote from one Les Johnson, a NASA engineer tasked to look into planning a 20 year mission to the edge of interstellar space:
If we [in 500 years] have fusion power plants, and space-based solar panels beaming energy down, and we're mining the moon, and have an industrial base in low Earth orbit--maybe a civilization like that could do it.
Here's a New Year's Resolution for you--do something to make that future civilization more likely. You could do worse than reading these two articles, and then joining the National Space Society ( http://www.nss.org) and the Planetary Society ( http://www.planetary.org). Happy New Year to all! [-dls]
LES MISÉRABLES (letter of comment by Pete Rubinstein):
In response to Mark's review of LES MISÉRABLES in the 12/28/12 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
Odd that you mention the 1934 version. I just saw it last week for the first time. It was a bit slow in places, but well worth watching. It did take most of the day to watch, though, as it was nearly five hours long. [-pr]
THE HOBBIT (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE HOBBIT in the 12/28/12 issue, David Goldfarb writes:
Katie points out that Bilbo is described as rich, and the Tooks even richer, and they all seem to be treated sympathetically enough. And Bilbo profits by his journey, as well. [-dg]
Turner Classic Movies, Science Fiction Talks, Space News, THE HOBBIT, and DEATH OF A SALESMAN (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 12/28/12 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
A very eclectic batch of items this week, Mark and Evelyn, a few of which warrant some feedback.
First off, Valerie and I enjoy watching classic movies on TCM. A recent one was "We're No Angels" (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray. It surprised us at how well Bogart played in this Christmas comedy. There was a recent version of this made in 1989, starring Sean Penn and Robert De Niro, with Demi Moore and Hoyt Axton, but that flopped at the box office and had a completely different storyline. I much prefer the original: much funnier and better acted.
[Actually Bogart was good at comedy, particularly with a good director. The classic example is THE AFRICAN QUEEN. -mrl]
Hey, very cool that Ginjer Buchanan is coming to lecture at the Old Bridge, NJ Public Library on March 2nd. A few weeks after that, George R.R. Martin will be here at Texas A&M University's Cushing Library of Special Collections on March 22nd, which is also my birthday. It is also the first day of Aggiecon 44 at the College Station, TX Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, and Martin will be making an appearance at the convention as a "very special guest." That should result in quite the large turn-out for the con. I am already looking forward to that weekend!
Like Dale Skran, I like to keep up on what's happening in space news. I get weekly e-bulletins from Space.com and the Nasa Weekly Digest, and also have those websites Dale listed in my favorites file. This past year certainly had a number of remarkable achievements in space, such as Curiosity's landing, the asteroid images, the exo-planetary search, to say nothing of even more astonishing images courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. The next few years, federal budget willing and through the efforts of SpaceX and other commercial space efforts, should be very interesting to follow. We shall see how things develop.
A few weeks ago I saw THE HOBBIT in 3-D and thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie zipped right along, no mean fit since its run time was listed at 170 minutes. Sure didn't feel like a three-hour movie! This was definitely a movie experience worth the price of admission.
Before I sign off, I should mention that I have taught DEATH OF A SALESMAN in my Literature class many a time. Evelyn covers it very well here, and I recommend watching Dustin Hoffman's turn as Willy Loman (1985). I think it's one of Hoffman's best acting efforts of his career, and the production also features the late Charles Durning as Willy's brother and a very young John Malkovich as Biff. An excellent production, available on DVD, of course.
And that does it. Thank you for your weekly VOIDing, and I hope you two have a very prosperous and enjoyable New Year. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The premise of LANGUAGE: THE CULTURAL TOOL by Daniel L. Everett (ISBN 978-0-307-37853-8) is that language develops as a tool and so all its characteristics can be attributed to that function. If a language has no words for counting, it is because the users of that language have no need for such words. If they needed them, the words would be invented. (Or as it turns out in some cases, when people think that a language has no word for some concept, they are just wrong.)
Everett bases a lot of his conclusions on Piraha, an Amazonian language that he learned while a missionary to the Piraha people. While his examples o support his thesis, I am cautious about believing it, since in the past people have put forth theories with supporting evidence from languages they had learned, and only later it was discovered that they had learned them imperfectly. (For example, it was said that the Navajo had no way to conceptualize time the way we do because the Navajo language lacks the words for it. The former turns out to be false, and in fact the latter is not entirely true either.)
For those who like language oddities, Everett gives us "garden path sentences" which mislead the reader:
And what Everett calls "ambiguous sentences", but are really ambiguous headlines:
GHOSTS OF THE CONFEDERACY: DEFEAT, THE LOST CAUSE, AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE NEW SOUTH by Gaines M. Foster (ISBN 978-0-19-504213-9) makes an good companion book to Edmund Wilson's PATRIOTIC GORE. Wilson looks at how the South's post-Civil-War attitude towards the war and towards itself was reflected in its literature of the period. While Foster does look at some of the writings of the time, he concentrates on the organizations formed to remember, to memorialize, and to interpret the war. So many were formed, in fact, that Foster provides a page of "Frequently Used Abbreviations" so that you can be reminded that the SCV is the Sons of Confederate Veterans while the UDC is the United Daughters of the Confederacy. However, it does not include USCV, the original acronym of the SCV, standing for the United Sons of Confederate Veterans. In the text Foster explains that after the USCV formed, they were horrified to discover that there was another USCV--the United States Colored Volunteers--and immediately changed their name and acronym.
Indeed, the one aspect of the book that makes it difficult to read is the constant use of acronyms that are too close to each other and references by last name only to three different Lees, two Johnsons, two Johnstons, and so on. This is obviously not entirely Foster's fault, but one wishes he would use full names more often. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Men enter local politics solely as a result of being unhappily married. --C. Northcote ParkinsonTweet
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