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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/26/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 4, Whole Number 1764
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
August 1: THE COOLER, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM August 22: [no discussion] 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 January 23, 2014: THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures: August: [no meeting] September 7: Ellen Datlow, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
H. P. Lovecraft Square:
According to the Associated Press, "The Providence City Council has voted to name an intersection after native son and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The council's chief of staff says a resolution to call the intersection of Angell and Prospect streets 'H.P. Lovecraft Square' was approved unanimously earlier this month."
See http://tinyurl.com/void-hpl-square for the full story.
MOOCs (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
People who read the article on MOOCs (Massively Open On-line Courses) by Dale Skran in the 06/21/13 issue of the MT VOID might be interested in some data from San Jose State University with their Udacity MOOCs:
A few caveats about the content of these articles: The courses included remedial courses, which may by their nature require more interaction with teachers. Some students did not have reliable access to computers at the start of the semester. According to some reports, the MOOCs were produced in a hurry to meet a short deadline set by SJSU. And students in SJSU edX (a competitor of Udacity) courses are doing better in their MOOCs than traditional students.
[Technically, the courses at SJSU are not MOOCs, because they are not "open", but are restricted to those categories of students SJSU allows. But colloquially, they are MOOCs.]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for November (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly listing of films I recommend coming up on TCM. Somehow this was not a good month on TCM for fantasy films. September looks a lot better and October will presumably be very good. But these films are fairly good. All times are given in East Coast time.
Back when I was in high school, a few years into the Vietnam War, IBM ran a special presentation on TV of a film I had never heard of by a director I had never heard of. The director was Stanley Kubrick who was probably already at work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. But the film they ran (with only one commercial interruption) was THE PATHS OF GLORY WITH Kirk Douglas. Douglas had made several angry, powerful films in the 1950s in delicious black and white (see his ACE IN THE HOLE), but the capper was THE PATHS OF GLORY. It would be easy to label this an anti-war film, but that would be unfair to war. It is an anti-authoritarian film of the first order. Douglas plays a WWI French Colonel when the fighting between the French trenches and the German trenches has been stalemated for many long months. Douglas's commander orders him to lead an attack that everyone knows will kill a large majority of Douglas's troops. The film mostly focuses on the aftermath of the attack. The final sequence of the film is a masterpiece of a comment on the story. Dialog is by master crime novelist Jim Thompson. [Friday, August 30, 8:00 PM]
I also have memories of my experience with this film. I was in a Stanford class on Measure Theory and Advanced Probability trying to prove some strange inequality when I suddenly thought of a film I had seen once in which Gregory Peck played a fighting sea captain in the Napoleonic Wars. What could be more different from Measure Theory? Immediately after class I skipped over to the library and borrowed CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER. This is a long novel composed of three shorter novels by C. S. Forester. These were the first books in the series chronicling the career of Hornblower, and occasionally self-doubting and self-deprecating navy genius. There have been several similar series inspired by Hornblower written since. There have been the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brien. There are the Richard Sharp novels by Bernard Cornwell. Another well-known Captain who initially was inspired by Hornblower is James T. Kirk. The film adapts those first three novels that Forester wrote. The books probably deserved a better adaptation. Hornblower is supposed to be very plain looking and would not look much like Gregory Peck. Half the film is based on the first novel BEAT TO QUARTERS. The next third is based on SHIP OF THE LINE. That leaves only a sixth of the film for FLYING COLOURS. Christopher Lee has a small role as a Spanish Navy Captain who crosses swords with Hornblower. Great naval battle scenes punctuate this film. [Thursday, August 15, 6:00 PM]
We get to see Gregory Peck in a very different vein in DESIGNING WOMAN. At the time it was made there had been several popular comedies with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. This film was probably written with them in mind, but the script was shot with Gregory Peck, and it suffered none at all by the substitution. Grace Kelly was cast as the female lead, but she had given up her acting career to marry the Prince of Monaco. She probably would have been a little too demure of the role. Peck plays a newspaper sportswriter doing an expose on organized crime infiltrating the fight racket. Off in Florida to cover a golf tournament he meets a fashion designer who is as different from him as seems possible. Yet opposites attract. Bacall becomes suspicious and obsessed with a woman out of Peck's past, but what she really should be concerned about are the gangsters ready to kill husband. Adding to the confusion is Maxie Stultz, a punch-drunk prizefighter given to Peck as a bodyguard. Vincent Minelli directed the script by George Wells. Wells won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. [Thursday, August 15, 01:15 PM]
THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) was made the year after DOCTOR X with the same Vitaphone sound and the same two-strip Technicolor. And the film reunites Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. The film was remade in 1953 in 3D with Vincent Price as HOUSE OF WAX. The film is creepy and atmospheric. In the remake director Andre de Toth had Phyllis Kirk as the lead and was shooting in 3D and had to sell both to the viewer. I think that director Michael Curtiz did not romanticize Fay Wray in the same way. It is just a bare bones horror tale and that makes it more effective. [Thursday, August 29, 9:15 PM]
The best of the month is to me PATHS OF GLORY. [-mrl]
EAARTH by Bill McKibbin (book review by Tom Russell):
Perhaps MT VOID readers contemplate which work of science fiction has done the best job of predicting what life on Earth will be like in the future.
Will it be as portrayed in THE JETSONS or as in MAD MAX? Or something else?
Edward Snowden has showed us that we are already living in a world predicted by one of my all-time favorites: THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST. That movie is probably high on the list of long-time MT VOID subscribers. It got the bad guys wrong (well, maybe not), but the scary evil they were doing it got correct.
So here we all are living on a "future Earth" and we didn't even know it. We don't like it, but there's not much we can do about it.
Bill McKibben reveals that in many ways we are not living on the Earth as we have known it. Rather, we are living on a different place, which he gives the new name Eaarth. One little disappointment with the book is that McKibben never reveals why he chose that particular name. I was also disappointed when the book ended: I was expecting one more chapter; instead there were forty pages of notes and acknowledgments. But as a whole this book is a "must-read" for anyone who is concerned about what is becoming of our planet.
Just to be clear, McKibben doesn't touch at all on how the Earth has become "Eaarth" compares to predictions from science fiction, but MT VOID readers might use his book to score their favorites.
Here's one little "score" for SOYLENT GREEN which I've noticed: In the movie the character played by Edward G. Robinson watches a film of what life had been like on Earth in the past. One striking scene from that film was a grand field of daffodils. Now it turns out that daffodils are the only flowers in our yard that the deer don't eat. Poisonous. So, coincidence that daffodils survived to "the end" in that movie?
McGibben doesn't mention daffodils but does describe something going on today on Eaarth that is eerily similar to SOYLENT GREEN: a farmer in Vermont is using whole dead dairy cows for compost (page 159). Five per cent of all dairy cows die each year, a lot of cows. They make good compost, fertile soil for soy beans or lentils.
And now all of New York City is going to be composting food and anything put in the new brown containers. The brown containers' contents will be picked up and hauled away just as in the movie. (This is a more recent development than McKibben's 2010 book.)
To the Brookdale students who we met while volunteering at the canoe-launch spot at Thompson Park (hope you read the MT VOID), thank you for telling us, "Read this book!" [tlr]
WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Directors Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya tell us the story of American humor being reinvented by comedians in the resorts of the Catskills. A whole generation of Jewish comics got their starts. From the late 1930s to the late 1960s the resorts offered food, relaxation, and comics. From busboys wanting to make a start to internationally known comedians, Jewish humor was a big part of the resort experience. WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL is a highly entertaining history of comics in the Borscht Belt during its golden years. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL is a history of the resorts in the Borscht Belt--the resort are of the Catskill Mountains in upper New York State. There a mostly Jewish clientele largely from the frantic New York City would take two weeks off each year and come for the clean air of the Catskills to decompress, relax, eat altogether too much of the legendary food--usually offered 24 hours a day, and to laugh at comic busboys, clowns, cooks, and with staff members and entertainers. The funny guys had names like Sid Caesar, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Jerry Stiller, Jackie Mason, Mort Sahl, Mel Brooks, Buddy Hackett, Henny Youngman, and Lenny Bruce. Put that much talent in one small area and you are bound to have cross-pollination of ideas (and in some cases outright theft of jokes). Comedy was as indispensable a part of the Catskill experience as was the seven varieties of breakfast herring. To get an idea how many great comics came out of the Borscht Belt see Wikipedia on Borscht Belt--Comedic legacy:
WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL tells the story of Jewish comedy in the Borscht Belt. The screenplay, by Lawrence Richards, has interviews with famous funny guys and a few not so famous people who saw it. But mostly they interview well-known Jewish comics, still funny. Everyone tells their reminiscences and the comics also tell some of their jokes.
Frank and Akkaya also give us a little of the broader story of how humor became such a personal thing with a people persecuted through the centuries. It was their safety valve and their way to stay sane. They laughed at life. Jews have laughter in their genes, and sense of humor is a survival trait. WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL mixes serious reporting with laugh-out-loud jokes. Comics tell stories of their past. Jerry Lewis tells of the first laugh he ever got from an audience. Jackie Mason tells us why he gave up being a rabbi and became a stand-up comic instead. It was a golden age for comedy and one that will probably never return.
The story is narrated by Robert Kline, comic and himself a former Catskill busboy. The film breaks the era of the comedy in the Catskills into two pieces. Prior to the end of World War II the hotels were comic chaos. Staff members pulled stunts and got laughs from the crowd. After the war things got more formal. There would be one comic at a time doing stand-up behind a microphone. The suggestion is made that this is the origin of the stand-up comic. There certainly is a lot of the history of American comedy in this film. Sadly, it all came to an end. Television brought comedy right into the home. Many of the TV comedians had learned and honed their craft in the Catskills.
This is a delightful entertainment that packs a lot of information in entirely painlessly. This is a fun piece of history and thank goodness it is preserved in this film. I rate WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2167056/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/when_comedy_went_to_school/
RUSHLIGHTS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: RUSHLIGHTS claims to be based on a true story. I am not sure I believe it. Reality is just not that twisty. Billy and Sarah, two young lovers, each a little crooked, go to flyspeck Texas town Tremo so Sarah can impersonate her look-alike roommate. The roommate, recently deceased from an overdose, was to inherit a large sum of money. They stand to be very rich if Sarah can pull off the fraud. But their deception turns out to be just one more thing in Tremo that is not what it seems. With more engaging leads this film might be one that people would want to see a second time--just to get straight all that happened. Co-written and directed by Antoni Stutz, the RUSHLIGHTS script keeps the viewer guessing. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
RUSHLIGHTS reminded me of early Coen Brothers. When the surprises start they just keep coming. Billy Brody (played by Josh Henderson) and Sarah (Haley Webb) are young and in love, and both have shady pasts. Sarah's roommate, who happens to look a lot like Sarah, dies of a drug overdose. Billy finds a letter to the roommate saying she is about to inherit a large sum of money from an uncle in Tremo, Texas. Billy and Sarah decide that Sarah looks enough like her roommate to impersonate the dead girl long enough collect the money. The two go to Tremo not knowing the rats' nest of complications their attempted deception was about to uncover. There they find themselves between their lawyer Cameron Brogden (Aidan Quinn) and Sheriff Robert Brogden, Jr. (Beau Bridges), two brothers who take opposite views of the young couple.
This film falls into the "Southern town with lots hidden under the surface" category. The lighting is distinctly film noir-ish with characters carved out of darkness. The photography is stylish and the film looks better than it feels. Before it is over there will be a lot of shooting, a lot of violence and even more blood.
The film would be intriguing but both of the main characters are plagued by flat acting. Josh Henderson is supposedly familiar from TV's revival of "Dallas", though I cannot say I have seen it. We see very little into their characters, perhaps intentionally from the script. Perhaps for reason top billing goes to Aiden Quinn and Beau Bridges who really are in supporting roles. Perhaps they have more name recognition than the younger actors.
It is not clear that some of the plot twists really contribute much to the story. They may be there for surprise value, but if they were not there it would be essentially the same story. A few are genuine twists. At times the film does not make a lot of sense. The script should have said something about how the discovery of the roommate's corpse back in L.A. is not going upset their plans. Holes in the plans stand there like the elephant in the room that nobody seems to think of.
There is some suspense in this film and I cannot deny there are surprises. With better actors this could have been a solid thriller. But if the main characters cannot make the viewer care what happens to them, the rest of the goings on does not matter much.
I rate RUSHLIGHTS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1536437/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rushlights/
Golems (probably not a letter of comment from Tablet Magazine):
Probably not in response to Mark's comments on golems in the 07/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tablet Magazine ran an article by Liel Leibovitz titled 'Hollywood's New Golems, on the Loose, Storm the Box Office'. However, it is about building artificial creations for self-defense, rather than about traditional golems.
The full article is at http://tinyurl.com/void-new-golems.
Golems (letters of comment from Kevin Robinson and Joseph T. Major):
In response to Mark's comments on golems in the 07/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin Robinson writes:
Micheal Chabon was probably aware of Len Wein & John Buscema's 1974 comics version of The Golem:
http://www.comics.org/series/2128/covers/ for the Strange Tales cover gallery
"As a child, Chabon was a dedicated comic book geek, collecting DC and Marvel titles. His grandfather had been a typographer at a plant New York where comic books, among other things, were printed. His grandfather would bring home bags of free comics for Chabon's father. Chabon told the Onion A.V. Club in 2000 that 'when I started reading, my father thought it was only natural that I should take an interest in comic books, too, and he started bringing me comics to read, although he wasn't getting them for free.'" [-kr]
I had not been aware that there were Golem comic books, but that would have been about a decade after I was into comic books. In the 1960s I never saw a reference to golems in comics. And that is a little surprising. Everything I have heard leads me to believe that there was a higher proportion of Jews among comic book creators and writers than there was among matzo bakers. [-mrl]
Joseph Major writes:
[Mark writes,] "We have strip-mined our sources for good film monsters."
I would say the decline really began in 1948 with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Over the next eight years the classic monsters became comic foils for Bud and Lou.
By 1962 they were harmless sorts, singing "Monster Mash" for fun and games.
In 1964, they became suburbanites, if an unusual sort, and "The Munsters" was quite ordinary. I admit that Fred Gwynne's Herman Munster was truer to Mary Shelley's portrayal of Frankenstein's Monster than any of the classic Universal movies the portrayals in the show ere based on, but he was still living between Ward & June Cleaver and Jim & Margaret Anderson.
So, by the 1970s, the famous Chicago columnist Mike Royko could watch a monster movie marathon with his son, only to be annoyed by the filial comments of "This is supposed to be scary?"
As a result, as you say, monsters got more monstrous. And thee had to build a franchise, so Jason and Freddy got killed in fire or gore or whatever, only to return unharmed and stronger than ever in the next installment. [-jtm]
I, too, have been unhappy to see the classic monsters degraded in low comedy. But at least for me the making them non-scary is not an issue. I simply am not scared by movies. I remember being scared by an episode of Alfred Hitchcock when I was five years old, and at ten PSYCHO and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM did scare me. After that a few films made me tense, but they have not done that for a long time. For me the virtue of the classic horror monsters was never that they were scary, but they were a sort of dark fantasy. So scary is not the issue for me.
But I like the idea of vampires and werewolves and the Frankenstein monster and I like good stories involving them. So the decline you point out is a sad one though at the same time Hammer Films came along and was for a while revitalizing the classic monsters. I like to see the idea of the monsters respected. A vampire that can be downed with a karate kick is much less impressive than one that a kick would do nothing to stop. But I think today's monsters are much less interesting and have gone from bad--the slasher and stalker--to nearly as bad--the 200th film about so-called "zombies." The Syfy channel seems to be pioneering its own kind of horror film of the "TarantuShark" variety. If these were made with any kind of quality they would be decent. But the filmmakers are very poor at just creating characters to care about.
Perhaps each generation just creates new monsters out of what scares them. There still are good monster movies being made, but it is a rarity. I think I would say CABIN IN THE WOODS is the best I have seen in years. It too is not really scary, but I can see it was trying to be engaging. [-mrl]
ELEMENTARY (letters of comment by Tom Russell and Rob Mitchell):
In response to A HREF=VOID0719.htm#elementary>Mark's reply to Tom Russell's comments on ELEMENTARY in the 07/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tom replies:
Thanks for your reply. We don't have any cable TV and so do get desperate for something to watch. After we had seen all of the "Monk" re-runs on 9 we tried Elementary. Maybe watched about half the episodes? Agree with your comment about it being much like a typical crime show. The final episode was best. That one I'd recommend, assuming you might catch as re-run. Well, I'd be interested in your comments on it." [-tlr]
And Rob Mitchell writes:
With respect to ELEMENTARY:
As a dedicated Sherlockian, I shake my head when I watch ELEMENTARY. My wife is a fan, so I watch it with her. I do find it an engaging mystery series; the cases are clever and the solutions plausibly uncovered. However, it is *not* a series about Sherlock Holmes, regardless of the name of the protagonist. I really enjoy BBC's SHERLOCK--I don't need my Holmes always in Victorian England--but it you are going to move a character out of his/her native state, at least be true to the *spirit* of the character. Otherwise, change the character's name and indicate the original character is an inspiration.
I liked HOUSE for that reason; although Sherlock Holmes was an inspiration, Gregory House was not Holmes. However, in ELEMENTARY, the lead character is petty, manipulative, short-tempered, sexually active and adventuresome--not at all what I expect Holmes to be. I regularly complain to my wife, "I'd like this show a lot better if the protagonist was named John Smith...".
It's the same problem as I had with Jackson's THE TWO TOWERS (I know Treebeard, and that's not Treebeard), and in a general sense, with the original STARSHIP TROOPERS (an OK film, but *not* an accurate adaption of Heinlein's novel). [-rlm]
Google Translate (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Google Translate in the 07/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
Slavery (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to the various comments on slavery in the 07/19/13 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
On cost of buying slaves: I got my numbers from a whole book on such alternative ideas, THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA, by a UCR economic historian.
Main point is we could've just bought our way out. Also, many medical costs were absorbed by individual soldiers, especially the Confederates.
That would be THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA by Robert L. Ransom (ISBN 978-0-393-329117), I assume. And for non-Californians, UCR is the University of California at Riverside. [-ecl]
I think that the primary reason we could not buy our way out of slavery is that it was not making a strong enough statement. Slaveholders would be seen as benefiting from slavery with the government's agreement. We had four years of civil war that did immense damage, but at least it made a very strong statement. Another reason we could not buy our way out was that it would have had to go through Congress. It is very hard to get a peaceful political solution to a problem agreed upon as we are seeing with our current Congress. On the other hand, once one cannon is fired the issue is well on its way to being resolved, though at a very high price. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE CASSANDRA PROJECT by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick (ISBN 978-0-937008-71-0) is described by some as an alternate history, but I would say it is really a secret history. The difference is that in *alternate* history things are definitely different, while in *secret* history things are different from what they seem.
Maybe the difference between alternate history and secret history is best shown be example:
Alternate history: A standard one is that the Axis won World War II and everyone knows it (e.g., FATHERLAND by Robert Harris, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K. Dick).
Secret history: The classic one is that there is a hidden organization that controls the entire world, but most people are unaware of it and still think that nations, etc., are what counts (e.g. THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION). Better-known science fictional examples of secret history would be Michael Flynn's IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND and the "Men in Black" films.
[I think of it as a secret history is an *alternate* way we might have gotten to the world *as we know it*. -mrl]
Anyway, while there are clearly some changes to the history of the space program, these seem to be mostly because the authors did not want to have the real astronauts (and others) as major characters in the secret history they were describing. It is one thing to have long-dead scientists involved in secret doings to control history, but authors balk at using living people in similar situations. This could have been written with no changes to known history, which is what makes it secret history to me.
The book also has a Heinleinesque feel in its promotion of private industry doing so much better at space travel than the government, and it would not surprise me to see this in line for the libertarian Prometheus Award. Alas, the explanation of what is going on is fairly predictable (yes, all of it).
IN THE WAKE OF THE PLAGUE: THE BLACK DEATH & THE WORLD IT MADE by Norman F. Cantor (ISBN 978-0-965-32378-9) certainly sounded promising. I thought the idea of examining the Black Death thematically rather than chronologically would provide a different perspective, but Cantor spends so much time on digressions and irrelevancies that he fails to do this. He spends pages describing the background and entourage of Princess Joan of England, most of which is irrelevant to the topic at hand. And he gets the notion of life expectancy wrong in the process. The life expectancy for Princess Joan at birth might have been twenty-five, but if she survived infancy, it was much closer to fifty. Indeed, a major flaw is the number of errors Cantor makes. As one more example, he repeats the urban legend that "Ring Around the Rosies" was from the 14th century, when the earliest reference is in the 19th century. His most egregious claim, however, is that the Jews contributed to the paranoia that led to the persecutions and pogroms against them by their adoption of Kabbalah, which Christians connected with witchcraft just at the time the witchcraft persecutions began in force as well. As several reviewers have noted, this is "blaming the victim," and particularly offensively.
And speaking of reviewers, after I finished this book, I found myself thinking, "Am I the only one who thinks this is not a very good book, and is offended by the surmises about the Jews?" Well, thanks to Amazon and Google, it was fairly easy to discover I was not an outlier. (I should note that I try to avoid reading other reviews until I have come to my own conclusions about the book in question.)
Anyway, this leaves me with a dilemma. I have no desire to keep the book, but if I think it is that bad--and misleading--should I really sell it (or donate it somewhere) and hence inflict it on someone else? Alas, the only other option is to throw it out, and I still hate throwing books out. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Ignorance and superstition ever bear a close and mathematical relation to each other. --James F. CooperTweet
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