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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/26/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 43, Whole Number 1751
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
[Note that several dates have changed.]
May 2: THE DISH, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM May 9: eXistenZ, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM; discussion after the film May 23: THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM June 27: FLOATING OPERA by John Barth, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 25: TRSF by the MIT Technology Review, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 22: [canceled] September 26: THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 24: THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 21: DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? By Philip K. Dick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 19: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures: May 11: Alaya D. Johnson, "Doing Historical Research", Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N July 6: Keith DeCandido, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Renovation (Worldcon 2011) Convention Report:
Evelyn's report on Renovation (the 2011 Worldcon) can be found at: http://fanac.org/worldcon/Renovation/x11-rpt.html.
Hugo Nominations Comment, Graphic Style:
For the comment by one nominee on the Hugo nominations, see http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20130419.
GAME OF THRONES as Theory:
An article from FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine on "Game of Thrones as Theory It's Not as Realist as It Seems--And That's Good" by Charli Carpenter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/void-got-theory.
Bill for Compulsory Science Fiction in West Virginia Schools:
THE GUARDIAN (UK) reports, "A bill calling for science fiction to be made compulsory reading in schools has been proposed by a politician in West Virginia in order to 'stimulate interest in the fields of math and science'. Ray Canterbury, a Republican delegate, is appealing to the West Virginia board of education to include science fiction novels on the middle school and high school curriculums. 'The Legislature finds that promoting interest in and appreciation for the study of math and science among students is critical to preparing students to compete in the workforce and to assure the economic well being of the state and the nation,' he writes in the pending bill."
The full story is at http://tinyurl.com/void-sf-wv.
You may have heard that there is a new bill to make science fiction teaching mandatory in West Virginia schools.
I am against it for two reasons.
1. It will turn science fiction into that stuff teachers make you read.
2. IT IS NOT FAIR. When I was in school science fiction was definitely not allowed. The attitude was, "We all know science fiction is bad. You should be reading good books." 1984 was considered good and hence not science fiction, but reading most science fiction would lead to degradation and Baywatch fandom. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in May (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We have another month coming up on Turner Classic Movies. This is my monthly guide to the films I would recommend for the month of May. All times listed are for the easternmost time zone.
Most of what I suggest here I suggest in the name of fun. They are films that I think are entertaining. Every once in a while I throw in a film I think is really good. At one time I considered A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966) to be the best film that I had ever seen. It is mostly all talk, but Paul Scofield--one of the great actors of all time--play Sir Thomas More a brilliant lawyer and a close friend of Henry VIII. But in the name of his religion he cannot endorse Henry's divorce of Catherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. More wants to be inoffensive and simply insists on remaining silent on Henry's behavior. And Henry wants More's endorsement no matter what he must do to get it. The script is beautifully written with More having almost superhuman self-possession and clarity of thought and speech. Robert Bolt, who wrote the play, had previously written the screenplay for the better-known LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Sir Thomas More, as created by Bolt is for me one of the great heroes of cinema. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is directed by Fred Zinneman who directed great films like HIGH NOON and THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. Those are thrillers, but A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is a deep personal story and a great film. [Friday, May 17, 3:45 AM]
I admit before I introduce this film that I am not a sports fan or a fan of sports movies. Even sports films considered great like PRIDE OF THE YANKEES do little for me. Barry Levinson's THE NATURAL (1984) I make an exception for since it is really a tale of myth and fantasy told with baseball players. The novel by Bernard Malamud really tells a very different story. It is about the corruption of a great baseball player. THE NATURAL is more like an updating of a King Arthur-like story of how a great player redeems his life. The director is Barry Levinson who directed films like DINER, AVALON, WAG THE DOG, and BUGSY. Robert Redford stars with Barbara Hersey, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley, and Richard Farnsworth. The photography is terrific. [Wednesday, May 22, 8 PM]
Somewhere between RIDERS TO THE STARS and THE RIGHT STUFF is the film COUNTDOWN (1967). Almost forgotten today, it might be completely lost if it were not one of Robert Altman's first films as director. It is based on the novel THE PILGRIM PROJECT by Hank Searls. Searls was sort of the Michael Crichton of his day. He wrote techno-thrillers comparatively well researched. He copyrighted THE PILRGRIM PROJECT in 1964 while going to the moon for real was in the offing. This film tells the story of a fictional space program and culminates in a mission to put a man on the moon for a year (!) while the geniuses who sent him figured out how to bring him back. The film stars James Caan and Robert Duvall as two astronauts competing to be the first man to set foot on the moon. This may not be remembered as a sci-fi thriller, but it is of definite historical interest. [Thursday, May 23, 2:30 AM]
A proto-pop-art crime film serial made in France in 1914 is JUDEX, directed by Louis Feuillade. The main character is a flamboyant crime fighter in cape and a hat with a turned down brim. This is Feuillade's third panache-heavy pulp serial following FANTOMAS and THE VAMPIRES. It is to be presented three nights (or more accurately three early mornings). I cannot vouch for the quality, not having seen it. But I expect it to be fun. JUDEX has not run on TCM since 2004. The chapters will be assembled and shown in three parts: Monday, May 6, 12:30 AM - 2:45 AM Monday, May 13, 12:30 AM - 2:30 AM Monday, May 20, 12:00 AM - 2:30 AM
What is my pick for the winner of the month? No question. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS may well be, in my opinion, the best film TCM will show this year. [-mrl]
OBLIVION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Directed, produced, and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, OBLIVION is a new film that borrows heavily from other science fiction films but brings them to the screen with well-crafted special effects. Sixty years after a costly war with aliens, two people mop up the Earth before it is to be abandoned. The back-story is complex but it takes an hour to get going. As usual Tom Cruise seems carefully to select a role that has more action than character. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
In 2077 it has been six decades since humans won a war against invading aliens, and since that time the after-effects of the war have left Planet Earth uninhabitable. Most remaining humans are being moved to a colony on Titan.
Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) is one of the few humans left on the earth. He maintains the drone robots that in turn maintain what is left of the planet. Where Jack does not have the tools he needs he improvises with things like chewing gum to keep complex machinery together. And he defends the security. This involves protecting his turf from invading Scavs--alien scavengers. But who they are and what they want, Jack does not know.
Jack asks very few questions. He just knows that he and his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are what their superiors call "an effective team." This means that Jack seems to go through about six nearly fatal brushes with death every day and somehow always comes through safely. Nobody seems to know or care the dangers Jack faces. But they do know his team is effective.
As part of his payment Jack lives in an exquisite home high over the desert that used to be New York City. If it seems surprising that someone with so menial a responsibility has been given so beautiful a home, it will seem even more so by the end of the film.
Meanwhile, the humans live in a tetrahedral space station above the Earth. They hose up seawater that will be used as an energy source for the distant Titan colony. (Seawater is a source of energy?) The back-story remains undeveloped for the first half of the film. But Jack has some more surprises coming that will be revealed in the fullness of time.
Wearing the hats of the producer, the director, and the co-writer, Joseph Kosinski helms his second film; the first was TRON: LEGACY. The CGI here is sumptuously applied making it a film you want to look at if not necessarily one you will want to sit through a second time. White seems a dominant color theme in the home platforms and the flying aircraft. There are many scenes to dazzle and distract from a script that is really a lot of warmed over sci-fi devices from other films. OBLIVION is something of a chimera of a film pieced together from so much that is borrowed. A major part of the plot seems to be taken from one specific science fiction film. [Telling you which film would be a spoiler, but it featured actor Robin Chalk.]
As with most of Tom Cruise's roles he poses fairly dramatically but has little real acting to do. His dialog (and monologue) is contrived to make him sound cool and his props like a foldaway motorcycle make him look nifty. But it really takes more than that to do more than pose. His strongest emotions are resolve and occasional bewilderment. To do some much needed humanizing the script has him decorate his aircraft with a Bobblehead he imaginatively calls Bob. Needless to say it takes more than that to create a character.
Morgan Freeman shows up in the second half of the film and with the science fiction background he had an opportunity to add new dimensions to his acting. He passes up that opportunity. Freeman knows the character his fans want him to be and he delivers that character once again.
OBLIVION is a film with the look being a lot more satisfying than the thought. Viewers with the option may well want to see the film in IMAX as the strongest aspects of the film are the its art direction and its visual effects. It is a pity there is no IMAX equivalent for too small a concept. I rate OBLIVION a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1483013/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/oblivion_2013/
THE RADIANT SEAS by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2009, Tor, Blackstone Audio 2006, 15 hours 32 minutes, narrated by Anna Fields) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
THE RADIANT SEAS directly follows the events of PRIMARY INVERSION in Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire Saga. It continues, in part, the story of Soz and Jaibriol Cox II, but mostly concerns itself with the devastating Radiance War between the Skolian and Eubian Empires. The book is somewhat uneven, but in the end, it finishes strongly and is immensely satisfying.
A great deal of the first portion of the novel deals with the life that Soz and Jaibriol lead on the planet Prism during their self-imposed exile. It is an idyllic lifestyle, with Soz and Jaibriol raising a family and living off the land. There is, of course, the constant threat that they will be found, and how to deal with that eventuality is in their minds. They spend about eighteen years on the planet, until, well, real life intrudes.
Back in the Skolian Empire, Soz' family is devastated to learn of her death--well, most of them, anyway; the ones that know she is still alive are feverishly hoping to keep the secret as best they can. Soz' brother Althor does eventually find out that she is still alive, and promised Eldrinson, their father, that he will keep the secret to his grave. However, Althor is eventually captured in a battle with the Eubians and is tortured to the point where he eventually reveals the secret.
And so, the peace that Joz and Jaibriol share is broken. Jaibriol is "rescued" by his empire, and their home is destroyed. Soz is able to get off the planet with the children. She takes them to Earth, leaves them with someone she deeply trusts (no, I'm not going to tell you), and heads off to the Empire to take her rightful place as Imperator. It is at this point that the novel really takes off.
You see, Jaibriol is now the puppet ruler of the Eubians. Althor is still a prisoner. And Soz is ticked. She will stop at absolutely nothing to get her husband and family back together. She is even willing to start a war to accomplish her goals.
As I stated earlier, the book starts out very slowly, but once Soz returns to take the reins of the Skolian Empire the story is non-stop. The story takes place on multiple fronts with the point of view shifting constantly. And there is a huge number of characters that are involved, and all of them play an important part of bringing the storyline to a close. And there is quite a closing here, as both Empires are changed dramatically by the end of the story. The war may be over, but there are some far-reaching consequences for both sides that I'm sure will feed later novels in the Skolian universe.
Kudos go to Anna Fields, the narrator of this book. I'm finally warming up to her style, after I was at first jarred by her taking over the series a few books in. She does a terrific job handling the huge number of characters in the book, and she seems very comfortable with these stories now.
All in all, a highly recommended work.
On a side note: Yes, I will be reviewing the Hugo-nominated novels this year, as I do every year. It turns out that I was in progress with this book, as well as John Scalzi's episodic THE HUMAN DIVISION, when the nominees were announced. So, next time I'll be reviewing THE HUMAN DIVISION. The good news is that I've already read and reviewed three of this year's Hugo-nominated novels, so I only have two to go: Mira Grant's BLACKOUT (next up after THE HUMAN DIVISION), and Saladin Ahmed's THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON. [-jak]
DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Fun. Inventive. This is a comedy set against a backdrop of the world of competing stage magicians. Combination writer/producer/director/star Joe Tyler Gold tells an engaging story of magicians in international competition. Gold plays Jason, who loses his job and devotes himself to becoming a stage magician. His life is complicated by the attentions of a beautiful street magician who cannot be trusted. What makes this film impressive is an unending parade of magic tricks performed by experts and filmed without editing tricks or special effects. The subculture of the magic community, based on Gold's experiences, has a very real feel. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Jason (Joe Tyler Gold) dreams of being a professional magician and seems to have what it would take. When his magic gets in the way of his job he is fired or as his boss puts it is given a "firetunity." His life is almost immediately complicated by repeatedly running into a beautiful woman, Stacy (Valerie Dillman) who is part grifter and part street magician. She gets involved in Jason's plans to compete in professional magic competitions starting in San Diego. Jason's best friend is Steve (Jonathan Levit), and with a new friend Ellen (Sascha Alexander) the four--in varying pairings--go off to become famous.
The film GETTYSBURG was made with real historical re-enactors who among them knew just about everything there was to know about the battle. It had a lot of weekend soldiers who worked cheaply because they believed in the film. The result was an excellent and accurate historical film with a lot of people contributing. There are not a lot of fields where you can get a bunch of true believers to contribute to a film because they believe in the film being made. One other field that has such people is stage magic. DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC seems to be the net result of the work of a lot of stage magicians. The film is really something of a non-stop magic show with a story going on in the background. What you will see here is not real magic, of course, but it is real stage magic performed by professionals. All the nonstop parade of tricks are performed in front of camera that is doing no more than revealing what it sees. There are no special effects to make the magic work. What makes this a particularly brave production for its contributors is that on DVD, the legerdemain can be observed in slow motion over and over. That is one reason why some magicians will not appear on television where their acts can be recorded and studied. But the magic show itself is worth the price of admission, and the story is almost a bonus.
Joe Tyler Gold is a professional magician who performed in fifty children's parties before competing professionally. He based DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC on his experiences. Beyond writing the film he co-directed it, co-produced it, co-edited it and played the main character. Where he cooperated in these tasks it was with Tammy Caplan who also plays in the film. I would say the production has not quite the polish of a studio film, but Gold and Caplan manage to pull off turning a just OK plot into a film that is a lot of fun.
It has been noted that stand-up comics frequently make good actors. There is something about getting up in front of live audiences that trains comics to hold the viewer's attention. There is nothing tentative in their acting. The same principle probably works for stage magicians also. In DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC much of the cast is played by real stage magicians who have experience in front of live audiences. They know what to do in front of a camera and give a professional polish to this festival of newcomers. The one really veteran actor is the competition master of ceremonies Don (John Getz). He is a veteran of films going back to BLOOD SIMPLE, Cronenberg's THE FLY, and more recently THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
For Gold and Caplan's first film, this is a solidly entertaining production. While the story itself is not monumental, the film has more than enough inventive charm to hold the viewer. I rate DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC a labor of love and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. (Somebody should have cut the "Jumping Ring" though. That one is a little too obvious.)
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2401007/combined
Movie Titles (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's response to John Hertz's comments on THE LIFE OF PI in the 04/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Evelyn says,] "Every time I heard about the movie CONSTANTINE I had an instant of thinking it was about the Roman Empire."
I am glad that I am not the only one. [-tb]
[Evelyn also says,] "And Mark said when he first heard the title 'Autumn in New York', he heard it as 'Ottoman New York' and thought it was an alternate history."
I've never heard of "Autumn in New York", but would be interested in seeing "Ottoman New York". [-tb]
Review of the MT VOID in THE ZINE DUMP (comments by Guy Lillian III):
In THE ZINE DUMP, Guy Lillian III's fanzine review zine, Guy writes:
"Ever-enjoyable e-zine from Evelyn and Mark Leeper. As you can tell from that issue number , they've been at it next-to-forever, and have yet to run out of topics. Here, for instance, Mark Leeper discusses the transition of '60s spy TV to the big screen (the Philip Seymour Hoffman Mission: Impossible seemed improvised as it went along), Dale L. Skran meditates on "the Transhuman Condition" as seen in The Hydrogen Sonata and TV's Vampire Diaries (don't scoff; he makes sense), and Jim Susky puts in his two cents on gun control, a subject intruding everywhere. Not to be outflanked, Evelyn takes on the real "good old stuff" ... Aeschylus's Oresteia. And they list the Hugo nominees. Not drawn to the above topics? Wait a week; others will come up. The Leepers cover the world(s). [-gl3]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A HISTORY OF WARFARE by John Keegan (ISBN 0-679-73082-6) was recommended in the first lesson of the Teaching Company's "War and History (Prof. Jonathan P. Koth). Keegan does not provide a history of the world through its wars, as one might expect, but a history of the philosophy and practice of warfare. The "philosophy of warfare" may sound odd, but that seems to be the best term. Keegan describes various modes of warfare, such as "face-to-face traditional combat", "Aztec flower battles" (for the purpose of taking captives), "phalanx warfare", combat in which there was no dishonor in retreating to fight again another day, and so on. Some of the most costly battles are those in which one side is fighting according to one set of rules, and the other is using a different mode entirely.
Keegan divides warfare into four stages: stone, bronze, iron, and fire. In addition to these main categories, he also has shorter sections on logistics and other orthogonal aspects of warfare.
I picked up SELECTIONS FROM THE ESSAYS OF T. H. HUXLEY by Thomas Henry Huxley (no ISBN) at the Cranbury Bookworm moving sale. Almost immediately on starting it, I ran across this delightful description of the origins of the Royal Society: "And it is a strange evidence of the taste for knowledge which the most obviously worthless of the Stuarts shared with his father and grandfather, that Charles the Second was not content with saying witty things about his philosophers, but did wise things with regard to them. For he not only bestowed upon them such attention as he could spare from his poodles and his mistresses, but being in his usual state of impecuniosity, begged for them of the Duke of Ormond; and, that step being without effect, gave them Chelsea College, a charter, and a mace: crowning his favours in the best way they could be crowned, by burdening them no further with royal patronage or state interference." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: You can't really succeed with a novel anyway; they're too big. It's like city planning. You can't plan a perfect city because there's too much going on that you can't take into account. You can, however, write a perfect sentence now and then. I have. --Gore VidalTweet
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