MT VOID 03/08/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 36, Whole Number 1744

MT VOID 03/08/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 36, Whole Number 1744

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/08/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 36, Whole Number 1744

Table of Contents

      Fred Astaire: Mark Leeper, Ginger Rogers: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Costa Rica Log Correction:

Last week we said that our Costa Rica Trip logs could be found at

Due to a slip-up those links were not working. They will work now. (Note that the second one has changed slightly--a spurious capitalization had crept in.) Sorry for the inconvenience. [-mrl]

My New Motto ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

My new philosophy of life is "Carpe Diem." That's Latin for "Complain today." [-mrl]

The ARGO Dilemma (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

When it first opened I gave a fairly favorable review to ARGO, the film that eventually won the Best Picture Academy Award. It is not that I consider that as counting for much. The fact that A gives an award to B really tells you as much or more about A than it does about B. My review is at

A correspondent wrote me and was indignant that I was as positive on the film as I was. He said that the film had presented itself as a historical account of the rescue of United States citizens in Iran at the time of the Revolution. But in the third act ARGO showed a hairbreadth escape that really had not happened at all. In truth, the final escape went without a problem. As the writer said, "The ending never happened. Why does this story need a James Bond action finish? It's not in Tony [Mendez]'s book. There is only one reason, to sell it to the public to make $$$ and not for any artistic reasons."

Well, let me comment about that. I wrote my review in the first days of the release before there was the controversy over the last act being very much invented. If I were writing the review today I would say more about how the facts were not to be depended upon. However ...

Historical films are very rarely accurate throughout. BRAVEHEART completely left the bridge out of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS had a climactic meeting between Elizabeth and Mary that never happened. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN completely whitewashed Saladin. The story of GLADIATOR was ludicrous and has been compared to one in which an NFL player topples the US government. ZERO DARK THIRTY said that THE CIA used torture to get intelligence that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The title character in POCAHONTAS was about ten years old when she risked her life for John Smith.

These inventions are not all of the same degree of seriousness. Clearly ZERO DARK THIRTY does more to affect the current political climate than does GLADIATOR.

For more interesting examples see

But I think my friend's complaint is that the script had to invent. If they told it the way it really was they would have had an exciting opening and it would have just petered out at the end. It is hard to make a dramatic ending in which everything is just okay. One example is the film THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN. At the end of the film the German High Command has decided that sending bombers over England was a losing proposition so they simply stopped. Towards the end there is a sequence with the British pilots sit waiting for the phone call telling them to scramble, a phone call that they had gotten every day, but the call just does not come. The filmmakers had the problem of making something NOT happening seem dramatic. There was a major event, but it was that the pilots were just sitting around instead of air fighting. Making sitting around dramatic just did not work really well in that film. In ARGO Ben Affleck apparently did not want to have a similarly deceptively un-eventful ending.

I suppose a filmmaker's first responsibility is to entertain the public so I can understand why there was an action ending plastered on to the events in ARGO.

Part of the fun of seeing a historical film is that afterward you get to pick it apart and see what they got right and what they got wrong.

And as for the making of "$$$", what dramatic films do you know of that were not produced to make $$$? Sure, it was made to make money. So were CITIZEN KANE and CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE. The question is what sort of film they were making to make money. Were they making good films to be remembered or were they looking for a fast buck? ARGO has gotten a lot of people more interested in recent history and in US relations with Iran. A film that just died in the last act likely would not have done that.

I cannot give a final answer on this one. It seems to me the ending that was invented for ARGO actually says that the Iranians were a more vigilant than they actually were, but our CIA was also at the top of its game. It may have been a bit too flattering all around. [-mrl]

MT VOID Style Guide (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

We are getting enough [strongly appreciated -mrl] contributions to the MT VOID these days that it is probably worthwhile (for me, anyway) to publish an MT VOID style sheet. So here goes.

You have probably noticed that what you get in email is plain ASCII. Almost everything in the style sheet is driven by that. I can format submissions that do not follow these guidelines but it takes more time and effort. So if you're sending something in that was formatted to appear somewhere else fancy formatting is okay, but please try to avoid it in general.

Please do not use "smart quotes" (or "smart hyphens" or anything else Microsoft thinks needs to be made smarter). Also avoid accent marks, slashed 'o's, and other non-ASCII characters.

Please do not use italics, bold, or other fancy fonts. Put titles of books, movies, and television shows in all capital letters. Put titles of short fiction, television *episodes*, and other short works in quotation marks. Use asterisks to denote emphasis (see previous sentence).

I have come to prefer the British style of combining periods and commas with quotation marks: place the period or comma outside the quotation marks if what is being quoted is a title that does not include it. You do not have to follow this.

For book reviews, please include at least the title, the author, and the ISBN (assuming it has one).

[Look on the book and you should see the ISBN. If you cannot find it, you can find the book in Amazon and just search for the string "ISBN". If they give two ISBNs, the preferred ISBN is the ISBN-13. -mrl] Spell out "OK" as "okay", "US" as "United States", and "UK" as United Kingdom". (The last two are to avoid confusion between them.)

In general, spell out small numbers (e.g., "one" instead of "1" and "seventeen" instead of "17"). There are exceptions to this.

Paragraphs are your friend--use them. But represent them by a double carriage-return, not indentations. Similarly, lists should be manually numbered, or have the items manually marked with hyphens or asterisked. If the items go more than one line, putting blank lines between them may be desirable.

Make each paragraph a single line of text, that is, do not insert carriage returns, line feeds, etc. I will wrap the lines as necessary. [-ecl]

GAME OF THRONES (Season II) (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

[Caution: There are probably spoilers in the following. I don't know for sure, since I am trying to avoid reading spoilers. -mrl]

[The above statement is a spoiler warning and not a spoiler in and of itself, since I do not know if there spoilers in the following or not. If there are spoilers and the reader does not expect them, just telling the reader that there are spoilers would constitute a spoiler of the review though not one of the series. -mrl]

I'm a bit late out of the gate on this one, so I don't plan a long review. I just received the GAME OF THRONES Season II DVD, and watched it in pretty short order. Overall, the second season is at least as good, and possibly better, than the first season. Season II of GAME OF THRONES adapts the second book in the series, A CLASH OF KINGS. Although it more or less follows the plot of the book, a good bit of complexity and detail is lost. The story of Arya Stark is considerably shortened and changed. In the television show she is more a kid who aspires to kill, while in the book by this point she has killed at least two people directly, and possibly many more. Oddly, considerable screen time is spent showing the nasty Orwellian tortures of the bad guys, time that could have been spent developing the Arya story.

On the other hand, the tale of Denarys Targerian is much improved in the screen version, and in particular the confrontation with the warlock of Qarth, Pyat Pree, which seems padded and hard to follow in the book, works a lot better visually. Overall, Season II has excellent casting. I particularly like Stannis Baratheon, Bronn (Tyrion's #1 henchman), Sandor Clegane (the Hound), Ser Jorah Mormont (Denary's #2), Margaery Tyrell and her brother Ser Loras, Osha, the wilding woman who helps Bran Stark, and Ygritte, the wilding girl Jon Snow falls in love with, but these are just the highlights. Although the plot events are sometimes changed significantly, the characters are 95% the same as in the book. Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) remains one of the most interesting characters to watch.

Once character that seems a bit different in the television version than in the book is Roose Bolton, Lord of the Dreadfort. The television version seems cleaner and more refined than I envisioned him from the book. A more major difference from the book is that King Robb's love interest is no longer Jeyne Westerling, but a completely new character, Talisa Maegyr, who claims to be from Volantis. Talisa is a stronger and more interesting character than Jeyne, and this change doesn't alter the plot much.

There is a considerable amount of explicit sex and violence, although the sex seems more important to the plot in Season II and less pasted in. However, one S&M scene with Joeffrey Baratheon is not in the book and seems to have been inserted just to remind the viewer that Joeffrey is a completely loathsome lout (as though all the other nasty things he did wouldn't give you a hint!). Most of the sex scenes have a kind of clinical coldness that diminishes any erotic effect. Be warned that the magical scenes with Melisandre are sometimes quite disturbing.

Dan Kimmel is suggesting the "last" episode as a possible Hugo nominee in short form drama, but I think he may have intended to recommend the second-to-last episode, "Blackwater," which is in many ways the conclusion of the season. The actual last episode, "Valar Morghulis," is a good suggestion as well. "Blackwater" was the only episode written by George R. R. Martin in the second season. The entire second season is a good candidate for nomination for the Hugo long form category.

GAME OF THRONES (Season II) is highly recommended for those who like this sort of thing, but it is strictly for adults. [-dls]

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

A while back, I gave a pretty unfavorable review in these pages to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO. However, I received various reports that the United State film version starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara was decent, and so recently watched the DVD. I am pleased to report that some of the worst features of the book are lost in the conversion to this film version.

The book opens with a tedious fifty pages that tried my patience, but these doldrums are compressed into about a minute of screen time, a vast improvement! Another distinct improvement is that the book's rambling screeds against "businessmen" and "big business" are pretty much lost. The villains are instead presented as a family of Nazi serial killers bent on killing Jews, and the rich but nutty Vanger family comes over as a mixed bag, with some saints and some sinners. Yorick van Wageningen, Lisbeth Salander's sadistic legal guardian is presented more as a singular bad guy than a representative of all men. The book often seemed to present itself as a feminist tract while titillating the reader with misogynistic porn. This is handled much better in the movie; no one will ever confuse the fairly explicit rapes in the movie with an attempt at exploitation. The actual serial murders are presented as a series of old photographs and oral descriptions, greatly reducing their impact.

Daniel Craig is surprisingly plausible as the crusading journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. He has developed a set of "intellectual reporter" tics and mannerisms that are quite unBond-like. As I stated in my review of the book, casting Craig as Blomkvist goes a long way toward explaining his Bond-like attraction to the women in his life. In the book Blomkvist's amorous adventures come off as mere wish fulfillment on the part of author Stieg Larsson.

Rooney Mara does an excellent job bringing Lisbeth Salander to life. She perfectly captures the remoteness and utter focus of Salander in the book. At first Salander's piercings and street garb are simply off-putting, but as time goes on and we see Salander take on various personas, we realize that her goth girl look is a much as mask/shield as any of her other disguises. Perhaps the face-blackened avenger who tortures Wageningen is the "real" Lisbeth. Perhaps there is no "real" Salander, only a series of faces she presents to the world to keep it at a distance.

When reading the book, I felt that Blomkvist was largely an idealization/wish fulfillment version of Stieg Larsson. Seeing the movie, I started to see Lisbeth as another version of the fantasy "ideal investigative reporter." With her eidetic memory, vast array of illegal hacking skills, closet full of disguises, and a clinical detachment from her subjects, Salander is the wet dream of any investigative reporter. Couple these characteristics with utter fearlessness, sociopathic tendencies, and a ruthless determination to win any fight, she is a one-woman Justice League, both seeking out the truth, getting it into the public view, and then meting out rough justice against the rich and powerful that any super-hero vigilante would be proud of. Alas, Salander's origin and training remain unspecified; how a state ward could have acquired her vast array of skills seems at best implausible. One positive note is that the movie spares us Stieg Larsson's tedious and technically bogus attempts to explain Lisbeth's hacking activities.

I'm rating the movie a high +1. Rated R for a reason, TGWTDT has strong scenes of rape and torture, as well as relatively explicit sexual encounters. Strictly for adults. [-dls]

COLUMBIANA (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Writer/producer Luc Besson (THE PROFESSIONAL) brought out COLUMBIANA in 2011, but I missed it in the theaters. In spite of a tomato meter rating of 27%, I wanted to check out the latest entry in the "chick revenge" sub-genre, and see Zoe Saldana in something that was not Star Trek, so I recently watched it on DVD. The movie works surprisingly well as a violent action adventure. I particularly liked the opening where Marco and a mob of Don Luis' henchmen attempt to hunt down and capture a young Cataleya (played by Amandla Stenberg). It reminded me of the opening chase in the first Daniel Craig Bond film, CASINO ROYALE. I also liked the assassination where Cataleya gains access to a police station by posing as a drunken prostitute in order to reach her target in a jail cell. It works well as a "Mission Impossible" episode.

COLUMBIANA probably does not bear a close watching. I'm not going to claim that every scene fit together or that the action was perfectly thought out. It is never explained how Cataleya received such excellent training, or how she gets state-of-the-art spy gear. However, overall, this was a perfectly watchable movie with professional acting. To make a comparison, COLUMBIANA is about ten times more interesting to watch than HAYWIRE, another recent entry in the butt-kicking heroine genre.

I was struck by the links between COLUMBIANA and ALIAS. Cataleya Restrepo (Zoe Saldana)'s love interest Danny Delaney, is played by none other than Michael Vartan, Sidney Bristow's love interest in ALIAS. "Danny" is the name of Sindney Bristow's fiancée in ALIAS who is murdered early in the first season. And to top it off, Cataleya has told Danny that her name is "Jennifer" and of course Jennifer Garner played Sidney Bristow in ALIAS. Although Cataleya is not Sidney Bristow, they share the characteristics of being very creative on the fly during operations, using a lot of advanced technology to do their work, living a life of lies, and apparently the mastery of virtually every martial skill and weapon in existence. Of course, Cataleya is a stone-cold independent assassin who has dedicated her life to revenge. On the other hand, Sidney Bristow is someone who believed she was trained to be a CIA agent, but on finding that she really worked for the bad guys, dedicated her life to bringing them down, and who in the final episode of the series kills her mother in hand-to-hand combat. Well, maybe they are more alike than I realized!

Another set of parallels can be drawn to the character Arya Stark in GAME OF THRONES. In both cases, the father of a young girl is killed by an (evil king, evil drug lord), causing her to go on a long journey. During this journey, the girl buys passage over the sea to the land where she will be trained as an assassin with (a special coin, a computer chip). Once arriving in the distant land (Bravos, Chicago) she is trained by (The Faceless Men, Emilio Restrepo, Cataleya's uncle and a crime lord himself). Both Arya and Cataleya are stone cold killers from a very young age, long before they are formally trained to be among the best assassins of their time and place. Arya and Cataleya are both experts in disguise and live under assumed names. I'm not sure that any of this means anything, but there certainly seem to be a lot of parallels here.

COLUMBIANA is rated R, and features a good bit of graphic violence. The sexual content is not significant for an R-rated film. For comparison, COLUMBIANA is less violent than KILL BILL. Some critics felt that COLUMBIANA stereotyped Columbia in a negative way. If anything, the Columbia in the movie is cleaner, safer, and more picturesque than the real country, and the real Columbian drug lords I've read about seem crazier and more violent than the characters in the movie. In fact, very little of the movie takes place in Columbia, so there isn't much opportunity to present it in a negative way. The CIA, portrayed in COLUMBIANA as protecting evil drug lords from justice, has more to complain about on the stereotyping front. Recommended for fans of this sort of thing. Older teens and adults only. [-dls]

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN by Ray Bradbury (copyright 1951, audiobook copyright 2009, Blackstone Audio, 9 hours, 25 mintues, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

So, I've not read a whole lot of Ray Bradbury. I'm not really sure why that is, to be honest. I guess it's because there weren't many of his books in our house when I was growing up. We had a copy of DANDELION WINE, which to this day I've never read. I've read FAHRENHEIT 451, but not THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. Strange that. I met him once, back in 1986 at ConFederation, the WorldCon in Atlanta. A friend of mine and I were wandering through the dealers' room not long after it had opened, and it was pretty empty. We were looking around, and there he was, in that traditional white outfit of his. My friend and I looked at each other, said, "Well, what the heck?", and went over to meet him.

He was a nice guy--very friendly. Here come two fans out of the blue to talk to him, and he took the time to speak to us for a few minutes. Years later, that meeting bought me brownie points with one of my daughter's middle school Language Arts teachers. "You mean you met RAY BRADBURY??? Oh my God, what was he like?" That was a very cool fangirl reaction. I actually had no use for the brownie points, but it was cool that the short meeting I had with Bradbury generated that kind of reaction.

So, *anyway*, I decided that I might as well give one of his other famous books, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, a try. I honestly didn't know much about it. What I found out, of course, was that it's a book of short stories, framed by a meeting between an unnamed narrator and a man whose body is covered in tattoos. The tattoos were allegedly created by a woman from the future, and each tattoo tells a story.

There are eighteen stories in all, of mixed quality. My favorites include "The Veldt", about a nursery (think holodeck) which is part of an automated house a family bought, and how that nursery contains a little more than meets the eye; "The Man", about a group of space explorers who land on a planet which is inhabited by people who are happy and living in a state of bliss, all because of a man that the explorers believe to be the Christian Jesus; "The Rocket Man", about an astronaut who spends most of his time in space away from his family, coming home periodically to visit and who misses home while he's in space and misses space while he's at home (and is said to be the inspiration for Elton John's song "Rocket Man"); "The Exiles", in which numerous works of speculative literature involving imaginary beings are burned on earth, but the characters themselves are alive on Mars and try to save themselves when astronauts bearing the last remaining copies of the books arrive on Mars; "The Concrete Mixer", about a Martian soldier forced to take part in an invasion of earth, only to find the earthlings aren't fighting back in a way that was expected; "Zero Hour", about children all over the country playing a game called invasion, which their parents think is cute until, well, it isn't so cute any more; and "The Rocket", a story about a junkyard owner who envisions taking his family on a journey to Mars.

There are a few themes that are prevalent in the book. Family is important. Technology is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. And Mars. Oh, yes, Mars. The stories in this book continue to show Bradbury's fascination with the red planet, which he most famously wrote about in THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

The technology in these stories does not hold up well at all, and Bradbury depicts Mars as having a breathable atmosphere. However, the tech is not the point of the stories--the tech just helps advance the narrative of each story to its logical conclusion. And that's okay. The point is the story and the people, not the tech. Still, if you're someone who wants his/her technology to be accurately portrayed, then you will have a hard time with this collection.

The one thing that does hold up is the storytelling. This is straightforward prose, not something flowery and difficult to read. Bradbury is trying to tell a story, not trying to make a literary statement. *That* is why he is considered one of the masters of our field. It's a shame we lost him last year. Many of our current writers could learn more than a few things from him with regard to telling a story. This is a good, not great, collection. However, that makes it one of the best, compared to a lot of other writers in the field.

Paul Michael Garcia does a serviceable job with the narration of this book. His reading neither adds nor detracts from the material, in my opinion. As a result, what he really does is get out of the way of the story--and to me, that's a good thing. [-jak]

SCRATCH MONKEY by Charles Stross (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

While at Boskone recently, I found that Charles Stross was autographing, so I decided to pick up an extra Stross book to collect a new signature. I selected SCRATCH MONKEY, the 2011 Boskone book, with a cover by Gregory Manchess and two bonus essays, "Scratching the Itch" and "Common Misconceptions about Publishing". As described in "Scratching the Itch", SCRATCH MONKEY was written by Stross in the 1990s but recently updated for publication.

The universe of SCRATCH MONKEY is post-Singularity, but highly dystopian. Speed-of-light limits rule, and there is no way to move super-luminally around the galaxy. An ecology has developed, with humans first building "Dreamtime" processors to store the uploads of the dead, and then spreading these processors over the galaxy using Von Neumann machines. Once a Dreamtime machine and a "Gatecoder" are constructed in a solar system, humans arrive as information streams and are loaded into newly created bodies. Death is not permanent, since you can get a new body if you want one. This all seems great, at first, but over time the Superbrights evolve, transcended humans and AIs that want more and more of the Dreamtime for their much larger and faster minds. First the Superbrights consume the entire solar system to make more Dreamtime processors, and then they exile the humans to take over their Dreamtime space as well.

Over time the Superbrights realize that they crave the stimulation of really new experiences, and start consuming the minds of uploaded humans. Thus, the Superbrights have an incentive to keep the Gatecoders running and people dying. Humans, not being entirely stupid, get wise to this, and revolutions break out aimed at destroying the Gatecoders or modifying humans so that they can't be uploaded via their built-in enhancements. The Superbright are not so happy with this eventuality since without the stimulation of new minds they break down mentally. Thus, war rages in heaven.

The Superbrights create "Distant Intervention" to protect the Gatecoder/Dreamtime system and suppress the rebellions. Our heroine, Oshi Adjani, works for a Superbright known only as "The Boss." Originally a blind beggar, she is re-built and trained as a SCRATCH MONKEY--a useful but ultimately expendable agent of the Superbrights. Over time, she discovers, rather like James Bond, that she has a talent for violence, as she evolves from a mere fighting grunt to a ruthless super-agent. The book covers her adventures in suppressing various rebellions in Stross's patented ultra-violent style.

Eventually Oshi discovers that there is big secret behind everything. From the Superbrights have evolved the Ultrabrights, entities as far above the Superbrights as the Supers are above humans. The Ultrabrights need even *more* of Dreamtime, and are systematically destroying both the Supers and the humans as they expand across the galaxy. The Boss agrees to send Oshi on one final mission, after which, if she both succeeds and survives, he will release her from his service.

This mission proves to be quite difficult for Oshi. Alone on a distant world, she must defeat a mad Superbright who styles himself as the dog-headed Anubis and his army of genetically engineered monsters. She must also survive the destructive other-dimensional weapons used by a group of anti-Anubis rebels, and build a fleet to defeat an incoming Ultrabright drone (drone does not imply small or weak here!). This all proves a hard piece of work, even for Oshi, but in the end she gets it mostly done, and the story concludes with a final throw-down between Oshi and a body-jumping mini-version of "The Boss." The final result is not a Hollywood ending.

SCRATCH MONKEY is not the most mature Stross, but it does have a lot of interesting ideas and fast paced action. Oshi is a character defined by a single trauma, but is certainly more real than, say, James Bond. Even the once-human "Boss" has a sympathetic background story. Theirs is a horrific future world, full of the most brutal violence and endless conflict with no hope of anything more than never-ending war. If you like Stross, you'll like SCRATCH MONKEY. If violent stories and graphic horror offend you, stay away. [-dls]

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Goro Miyazaki, son of the famous animator Hayao Miyazaki, makes his own animated film. This is a straight drama with none of his father's fantasy touches. Instead it tells the story of a lonely high school age girl without a father and with a mother working in the United States. She finds her first love in publisher of the school newspaper. But her father's past haunts her new relationship. This may be an animated film, but its touching story aims as much for an adult audience. Generally this is a good story, but not a really memorable film. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Goro Miyazaki, the son of world-famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, resisted going into his father's profession. He became instead a construction consultant. However, he did accept a job from his father building the Studio Ghibli Museum and that brought him closer to the business. At age 39 he agreed to helm an animated film TALES FROM EARTHSEA. FROM UP ON POPPY HILL is his second film. While it is from his father's studio and in his father's medium, it is very different from a film his father would have made. Most of his Hayao's films have been fast-paced adventure or fantasy, and this is a touching drama of a teenage girl unraveling a mystery about her father and about the very Japanese theme of the responsibility to protect the past and of the past's possibility of changing the present.

While there is no fantasy, the artistic style is much like the Studio Ghibli standard. One can look at a picture of the main character and immediately recognize in the artistic style that the film was made by a Miyazaki.

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL is a textured and deliberately paced drama looking deep into the character of sixteen-year-old Umi Matsuzaki living in Yokahama. It is 1963, just prior to the Tokyo Olympics. Umi is virtually an orphan. Her father died when his boat sank in the Korean War. Her mother is a doctor studying in the United States. Umi lives in a boarding house taking care of her family as a surrogate mother. It is hard work. Umi dreams of having both her parents return, but she knows that is impossible. Umi's house overlooks the port of Yokohama. Every day she raises nautical signal flags over her house saying she prays for safe voyages. These flags will changer her life.

The local school newspaper prints a poem about the signal flags that get flown each day. Umi goes to meet the poet by going to the local clubhouse, a very old building, slated for destruction to make way for a newer building. Umi builds a friendship with the poet Shun Kazama. She also discovers that most of the people who use the clubhouse love the old building and do not want it to be destroyed. Umi works on her relationship with Shun and organizes the eccentric clubs that meet in the building to try to get the clubhouse building preserved.

Goro's father co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa. Taken from a manga by Tetsuro Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, the story leaves some details a little hard to pick up, at least in the English language version. For example, never spelled out is what is Umi's relation to the other people living in her building. Some are clearly family, but it seems to be a boarding house.

The affection between Umi and Shun develops slowly. The two friends do not know their own families' histories, mysteriously linked, and the past overshadows their relationship. Miyazaki makes Yokohama seem a pleasant place to spend some 91 minutes. It recreates the period nicely, even making effective use of the Japanese international musical hit "Sukiyaki", a song that may be familiar both sides of the Pacific.

The film has charm, but overall is a little slight. The plot is pleasant, but bland. There is one very slightly shocking twist to the story, but it is handled gracefully. In the end it is all settled very quickly and in the end it is a little too pat. I would rate FROM UP ON POPPY HILL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Josh Billings (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to the quote in the 03/01/08 issue of the MT VOID ("A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself." --Josh Billings), Kip Williams writes:

Hmmmm. I don't doubt that Billings may have said something like that, but having read his works in the past, I can't believe he'd have said it like that. I'd expect something more like: "A dawgg iz theee onely thing awn airth thet luvz yu moar then yu luvz yore self," and then he'd spell his name some weird way while he was at it. Just two or three weeks of exposure (I can't remember how long the term of checkout was at that time) was enough to inoculate me against the charms of wacky misspellings ever since, which admittedly makes me a cranky old yank in a world of lolcats and leetspeak. [-kw]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

ERIC by Terry Pratchett (ISBN 978-0-380-82121-1) is the latest book I have read in my "Discworld" odyssey. This is the ninth book in the series, and it is oddly shorter than all the others. ERIC is 197 pages; the rest are 250 pages or more, and all but one of the subsequent novels are at least 300 pages.) In fact, a quick word-count estimate suggests that be Hugo rules, ERIC is not a novel, but a novella. This is because it was originally published as a large-format book illustrated by Josh Kirby. Now it is issued as a regular paperback with no illustrations. (The title was originally rendered as "Faust" crossed out followed with the name "Eric" hand-printed. There are remnants of that but the title is basically considered to be "Eric".)

Be that as it may, the shortness of ERIC means that the characters and the situation are not quite as thoroughly developed as in other novels. In particular, the title character has very little characterization and seems to exist solely to kick off the plot, which centers around Rincewind. Also, Pratchett relies on the reader's knowledge of the Trojan War to fill in the necessary back story rather than creating a new situation from scratch. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          There are two novels that can change a bookish 
          fourteen-year old's life: THE LORD OF THE RINGS 
          and ATLAS SHRUGGED. One is a childish fantasy 
          that often engenders a lifelong obsession with 
          its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally 
          stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to 
          deal with the real world. The other, of course, 
          involves orcs.
                                          --John Rogers

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