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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/30/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 9, Whole Number 1769
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
September 12: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe, with the optional alternative FIRST ON MARS (a.k.a. NO MAN FRIDAY) by Rex Gordon), Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film September 26: THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 3: THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM October 10: CYPHER and UBIK by Philip K. Dick, Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film (rescheduled from August) October 24: THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 7: Film (TBD), Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM November 14: Film (TBD), Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film 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: September 7: Ellen Datlow, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N October 5: Nick Kaufman, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in September (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Time for my monthly look at what is coming up on Turner for the new month. These are the films that I would recommend in September. Remember all times are given for the Eastern Time Zone. If you live out West you have to make allowances.
Sadly, today THE GENERAL (1926) will probably be unfamiliar to many readers, though it is one of the major films from the silent era, at once a historical epic and a comedy. It is a terrific and accurate visual recreation of the Civil War. It is based on a real incident from the war. On April 12, 1862 Union Army spies stole a trail in Georgia and drove it toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, destroying the track behind them. They were chased by locomotives trying to recapture the train before it could do too much damage to the line connecting Atlanta to the rail hub at Chattanooga. Buster Keaton chases the stolen train with plenty of those Buster Keaton gags and scary stunts. The climax has a train crossing the Rock River Bridge with collapses under its weight. It is no special effect. They actually intentionally collapsed the bridge and wrecked the train. At the time it was released it was pretty much a financial failure, probably because Civil War stories were still rather depressing. Today it is considered one of the greats. [Monday, September 9, 11:15 PM]
GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (1933) I choose not because it is a good film or even a well-made film, but it is politically an interesting artifact. Walter Huston is a corrupt President of the United States who is in a car accident. The angel Gabriel possesses his body and governs the US presumably the way God would like to see the country run, frequently with tough love. He fires his cabinet and defies Congress, giving himself much extended powers. In 1933 the political climate was somewhat innocent and to the average filmgoer what the President was doing sounded good. A few years later it was obvious what damage this kind of a leader could do. The film was sort of hidden away and was a rare film for a while. [Thursday, September 12, 8:45 AM]
I seem to remember that when THE ANDERSON TAPES was released it was considered something of a shocker. Sean Connery is a long-time professional criminal who is released from prison and is immediately planning a large and very profitable heist. He figures his old skills will be plenty good enough for his current big score. What he does not realize is that while he has been in prison and a little out of touch, the world has changed under him. Everywhere he goes there are surveillance cameras and monitoring devices that are spying on him. The government knows every move he makes and is hoping to use him to bring down his organized crime contacts. Today there is more surveillance than ever and we now see the NSA collecting information on every citizen. This film was timely as an expose when it came out, but it probably more timely or perhaps even passe today. Directed by the great Sidney Lumet. Sean Connery stars. [Tuesday, September 10, 2:00 PM]
BICYCLE THIEF (a.k.a. BICYCLE THIEVES) is perhaps the best film of the classic Italian neo-realism movement. Following WWII life in Italy is terrible. The vast masses of the unemployed must do anything they can to survive and keep their families alive. Antonio is a beaten down man who has a chance to save his family. He is offered a job traveling all over town putting up movie posters. He can get the job just because he has a bicycle. But on his first day on the job his bicycle is stolen from him. He is told by a fortune teller that he will get the bicycle back "soon or never." He takes his son Bruno on a hunt all over Rome to find his stolen bicycle. This is a wonderful and a tragic film. It was voted an ad hoc Academy Award seven years before there was an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. If you like BICYCLE THIEF you would probably also like UMBERTO D by the same director, Vittorio De Sica. Both films are very moving. On the filming crew both as an assistant director and in one scene as an actor was one Sergio Leone. [Wednesday, September 11, 12:15 AM]
What would be my choice for best film? Probably THE GENERAL. Black-and-white and silent with a musical accompaniment, it is one of the greats. But BICYCLE THIEF is a very fine film also. If you have seen only one of these films, see the other. [-mrl]
Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2017 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The Mindset List was created at Beloit College in 1998 to reflect the world view of entering first year students. It started with the members of the class of 2002, born in 1980. This year, they seem to have changed authors or something, because the entries are not nearly as striking. Nevertheless, here are my ten favorite entries from the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2017:
3. GM means food that is Genetically Modified.
8. Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
9. Gaga has never been baby talk.
10. They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
16. A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.
17. Threatening to shut down the government during Federal budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic.
21. Spray paint has never been legally sold in Chicago.
29. Java has never been just a cup of coffee.
48. Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic universe.
54. Washington, D.C., tour buses have never been able to drive in front of the White House.
ORPHAN BLACK (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
What is it about those Canadians? I've previously reviewed the excellent Canadian TV series CONTINUM, now in its second season, and described it as possibly the best hard SF TV show currently running. There is, it turns out, a competitor in the form of ORPHAN BLACK, another Canadian series, starring Tatiana Maslany as the title character. ORPHAN is hard SF, harder than CONTIUNUM, as it involves only "just over the edge" technology. It also brings to the small screen a number of traditional and cyberpunk SF tropes as described below.
The main character is Sarah Manning (Maslany), a small time confidence woman and grifter separated from a young daughter, Kira, who lives with Sarah's foster mother, Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Sarah hangs with her foster brother, Felix ("Fee") Dawkins, a gay artist and clubber played by Jordan Gavaris. Sarah is walking in a subway station when she spots an incredible opportunity. A woman (later we find her name is Elizabeth Childs) who looks just like Sarah commits suicide by train, leaving her purse and shoes on the platform. Sarah picks up the purse with the intention of adopting Childs' identity long enough to steal some money.
In the grand tradition of DOUBLE STAR, Sarah finds that although she wants to play a part, the part takes over her life, as she gradually finds herself having to function as policewoman Childs and falling in love with Childs' boyfriend, Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce) while she attempts to get a sack of money back from her partner, Detective Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard). This little set piece is only the beginning of Sarah's troubles, as it turns out Beth had a secret - she is one of a large number of clones, each with different lives, all apparently created as part of an underground experiment.
As the plot spirals deeper and deeper into a secret history where one hidden force seeks to protect and control the clones, while another works toward their destruction, Sarah bonds with her sisters in "The Clone Club." The clones are quite different, but oddly similar. They all seem to be naturals with guns, and Sarah easily learns to shoot well enough to pass as Beth. They are all physically active, and share a tendency toward psycho-active substances and risk-taking. And they are all pretty good actors, with varying degrees of experience. Finally, they seem to share what might be called a "talent for violence" coupled with a fierce desire to protect their children, natural or adopted. The clones are, as some men would say, "healthy looking" but lack the kind of perfect beauty we've come to expect in the movies, providing a realistic look to the series.
As you may suspect, Maslany plays all the clones in a tour de force of acting. ORPHAN is impressive just as a kind of one-woman show, but there is so much more here. Set in a generic English/Canadian/ American future, the exact location is never described, although filming is in Toronto. The effect is a bit odd as apparently American characters are juxtaposed with apparently British characters. We are gradually introduced to an increasingly exotic world reminiscent of William Gibson, with clubs full of body- modifiers and techno-freaks, henchwomen with different eyes, a psychopathic female assassin, and bad guy with a tail. Matt Frewer, the crazy Australian from EUREKA, eventually appears as Dr. Aldous Leekie, a Neolutionist, and apparently the brains behind the clone experiment.
I'm holding back a lot of the plot details, but ORPHAN BLACK works well as both a thriller and as SF. Like a lot of the great SF of the 1950s, there are layers and layers to this reality. The science background seems very strong, and cloning is treated realistically. One can question whether a patent on a clone would hold up in court, or whether a secret organization would apply for a patent on a clone, but this is certainly as reasonable area for speculation. Towards the end of the series, it begins to seem that Sarah's daughter, Kiri, may be the real point of the entire experiment, as she starts to display some unexpected abilities. How grounded in realistic science this development turns out to be remains to be seen, but normally I wouldn't expect children of clones to be any different from any other children. The title refers to the fact that Sarah was an orphan of unknown background, hence, ORPHAN BLACK. Black refers partly to the unknown, and partly to the fact that she is the product of a "black program." But Sarah is also unknown to the cloners as well, and she becomes a wild card they did not anticipate.
The only TV show that seems similar to ORPHAN BLACK is the Sarah Micelle Geller vehicle RINGER, but ORPHAN has all the thrills and duplicity of the canceled RINGER, which concerned twin sisters, laid over a solid SF backbone. ORPHAN BLACK is a hard-R type of TV show, with pretty explicit sex scenes, and some tough violence, especially the self-surgery one clone performs and another scene of a clone torturing someone with a glue gun. Definitely for adults and very old teens, but not all that different from the SOPRANOS or GAME OF THRONES in terms of what you see. The violence is more in the Hitchcockian vein, with gritty, realistic scenes rather than spurting blood or chopped off heads.
You can see ORPHAN BLACK on DVD or on BBC America. It's coming back in the fall for a second season, which is a good thing as the finale leaves many unresolved plot threads. Like all TV SF shows, it may go wrong in the second season, but ORPHAN BLACK so far seems like the best "clone" TV or movie I've seen, easily besting THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, my previous nominee in this category. A tip of the hat to Josephine Gopin for recommending ORPHAN BLACK to me. [-dls]
Podcasts (letter of comment by Kate Pott):
In response to Mark's articles on podcasts in the 08/09/13 and 08/16/13 issues of the MT VOID, Kate Pott writes:
Great article on podcasts. Please mention "Movies on the Radio" on WQXR. I'm sure there must be other Voiders who enjoy film music and many episodes feature genre or associated themes. I especially recommend the Aug. 10th episode which included a suite from Hugo Freidhofer's ABOVE AND BEYOND. Beautiful music from a composer whose work is really hard to find. I have only found one of his scores, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and only on vinyl. [-kbp]
New York radio station WQXR has a weekly radio show--not available as a podcast, unfortunately--about film music. They leave the programs up several up for several weeks for listening to, but they cannot be downloaded. This is their description of the program:
"Saturday nights at 9:00 pm, host David Garland presents new and old film scores, emphasizing the delights and uniqueness of movie music, and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of the field.
"Film scores can be full of emotion, suspense, and surprises, and use a rich variety of musical languages to help tell the movie's story. From the classics by Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Bernard Herrmann, to new scores by Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, and Danny Elfman, the panorama of movie drama will be heard."
Klingon (letter of comment by Sam Long):
Sam Long reports to us (and to File 770):
Klingon is taking over.
For your edification & amusement:
The Illinois Department of Employment Security's website now appears in Klingon, as well as in Spanish, Russian, and [Simplified] Chinese, as well as other languages. So says this item from yesterday's Chicago Tribune: http://tinyurl.com/n5u5yua. [-sl]
The article also notes:
"The unique language doesn't cost the department any money: Rivara said the Microsoft translation service is free. While the 280 or so pages on the department's website can be automatically translated, department staff members review each page in each language for accuracy and nuance. The department did not take time to review Klingon--so some words, like 'appeal' and 'unemployment,' don't translate on the site."
See also http://file770.com/?p=14231.
National Epics (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE LUSIADS in the 08/23/13 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
I read "The Lusiads" in a verse translation, which did nothing to improve on the essential weirdness of the thing. You asked parenthetically "Do we have a national epic? Why not?" I know of two attempts to provide one, and no doubt there are many more. Stephen Vincent Benet's "Western Star" is an unfinished book-length poem on the settling of the American West. John Myers Myers knew it, and it may have given him the idea of tackling the same subject in verse. Myers said of "Maverick Zone" (1961), "This group of three narrative poems about as many stages of the Western frontier was my most ambitious and best effort." Deciding "to expand my series of Western narrative poems into a continent-spanning one", he began with the novel-length "Song of Raleigh's Head" because "the true primary American frontier town was London, England, and … Walter Raleigh was its skookum citizen." That work remains unpublished, and I fear that it will remain so. I've read it in manuscript, and I suspect that of the few readers willing to tackle a modern epic, fewer still would be comfortable with the (now- dated) slang that Myers chose to use in his telling.
(The quotes from Myers are taken from "The Inside Scoop on John Myers Myers" in the NESFA Press edition of "Silverlock".) [-fl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our discussion book last month was TRSF: THE BEST NEW SCIENCE FICTION (No. 1) edited by the editors of the "MIT Technology Review" (no ISBN, UPC 09281-01333, order direct from MIT Technology Review). Normally, we try to pick something with enough copies available from the library system, but this is difficult to do: one cannot use inter-library loan for newer books, and too many of the older books have been purged from the libraries. This was cheap enough (and short enough) that we decided to go for it.
TRSF consists of a dozen stories, each tied to a specific technology, along with artwork by Chris Foss. While I like the artwork, I think the layout does it a disservice. As you are reading a story, you come across a page in the middle containing a beautiful painting by Chris Foss, and you spend a minute or so looking at it, admiring it, and trying to figure out what the heck it has to do with the story. Eventually, you realize that the answer is, "Nothing"; the artwork is just randomly placed in the middle of the various stories.
By the way, the cover says "12 Visions of Tomorrow" and then lists the twelve authors represented. Chris Foss's work, arguably more a "vision" than any story of words on paper, apparently does not count as a "vision of tomorrow."
What struck me the most about the stories was that they all seemed to be re-working of older (often classic) stories.
"The Brave Little Toaster" by Cory Doctorow (Communications) is in some ways a re-imagining of Robert Silverberg's "The Iron Chancellor". The big difference is that when "The Iron Chancellor" was written the situation was science fictional; today "The Brave Little Toaster" seems all too close to reality.
(Our own recent interactions with technology support Doctorow's underlying theme of progress having its drawbacks. Our old VCR could be programmed up to a year in advance; our DVR can be programmed only about a week in advance. Twenty years ago we got a can opener that attached to the bottom of the cupboard; now you have to take up counter space for one.)
Cory Doctorow seems to be making a project of re-using classic titles for completely different stories, by the way, and Doctorow's "Brave Little Toaster" has little, if anything, to do with Thomas M. Disch's story of the same name.
"Indra's Web" by Vandana Singh (Energy) seems to have its roots in "Dial F for Frankenstein" by Brian W. Aldiss, but with a more positive spin. For that matter, there are also similarities to "A Subway Named Moebius" by A. J. Deutsch. In all these stories, an entity of one sort becomes sufficiently complex to make a quantum leap to another sort of entity.
"Real Artists" by Ken Liu (Computing) has some interesting ideas about film-making, but I do not think it bears closer examination. For example, the time required to do the sort of development would seem to be too long--the computer parts would be fast enough, but the human interactions can run only in real time. It also harkens back to Connie Willis's REMAKE. It was ultimately disappointing, strangely, because Ken Liu has written some very thoughtful works, and I was hoping for something of that sort.
"Complete Sentence" by Joe Haldeman (Computing) has what has been referred to as a "virtual sentence" as its gimmick. This one reminded me of a story (whose name and author I cannot remember) in which Hitler is resurrected and executed over and over, with the goal of executing him six million times or eleven million times or whatever. These executions were not virtual, but both fall in the category of technologically enhanced punishments.
"The Mark Twain Robots" by Ma Boyong (Robots) is explicitly based on Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics, but also connected with Asimov's "Jokester", about the origin of jokes, and "Liar", about the application of the First Law.
"Cody" by Pat Cadigan (Biomedicine) reminded me of Chris Lawson's "Written in Blood", which also used the notion of encoding text in one's DNA.
"The Surface of Last Scattering" by Ken MacLeod (Materials) has as its central conceit "the Rot", a bio-weapon that has destroyed all paper in the world. One is reminded of such works as Kit Pedler's MUTANT-59. (And the existence of a lot of historical documents on parchment would seem to undermine the protagonist's father's intentions.)
"Specter-Bombing the Beer Goggles" by Paul Di Filippo (Web) is a fairly lightweight story about using technology and something like Google glasses to change how you see the world--and more specifically, other people. Whether it addresses the issue of how this objectifies other people is not clear. This almost seems more interested in the vulnerabilities of the technology than the morality of it in the first place. A much better story on a similar idea is Ted Chiang's "Liking What You See".
"Lonely Islands" by Tobias Buckell (Energy) is a short-short about two people matched up with each other on opposite sides of the environmental issue of cars. Eh.
One reviewer thought "The Flame Is Roses, the Smoke Is Briars" by Gwyneth Jones (Communications) was the best in the anthology. I could barely understand it.
"Private Space" by Geoffrey A. Landis (Spaceflight) is a story with a beginning and a middle, but no end, and seems as though it were lifted from ANALOG.
"Gods of the Forge" by Elizabeth Bear (Biomedicine) looks at "right-minding", which one could consider as psychological modification taken to another level--and whether that is something we should do.
Though this is described as the first annual anthology, it came out in 2011, and a second volume was never produced. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The truest characters of ignorance are vanity and pride and arrogance. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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