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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/06/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 10, Whole Number 1770
Table of Contents
Correction to Discussion Groups:
I accidentally reversed two films; the correct dates are:
September 12: CYPHER and UBIK by Philip K. Dick, Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film (rescheduled from August) October 10: 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
Sometimes Dubbing is Better than Subtitling (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got pulled into a discussion with two people who were disagreeing over whether foreign-language films should be subtitled or dubbed. One preferred that the film be in its original language. The other disagreed and said most people seeing the film would understand English so the director should have made the film in English. The first party thought this was a ridiculous argument. The director can choose any language he wants and the viewer should make do with subtitling. This brought the subject around to subtitling vs. dubbing. The first gentleman, knowing that I was into film, asked me which is better. I think he expected that since I reviewed film I would obviously pick subtitling over dubbing. He may have been disappointed when I said that it was an "it depends" situation.
If I were going to see a film I would much prefer to see it in its original form. I want to hear the voices of the actors even if I do not directly understand what they are saying. There is more in actors' speech than meaning. There is also emotion. There are speech patterns. In general you lose a lot with any dubbing and a lot more with bad dubbing. There are a lot of reasons to prefer the original film's sound. You hear the case made for subtitling frequently. But I am going to play Devil's Advocate and make a case that there are certainly times when dubbing is better than subtitling.
There are some performances of the script that just cannot be well represented in subtitles. The example that first comes to mind is overlapping dialog. If a film has overlapping dialog--if there are multiple people talking at the same time--there are limits to how well you can have each voice actor subtitled. Films like Z and DAS BOOT lose a lot in their subtitled versions.
Yes, I would like to hear the actors' actual voices, but I also would want to see the actors' facial expressions. Much of the drama of the acting is conveyed by facial expression. It is very easy to miss subtleties if your eyes are constantly dragged to the bottom of the screen to read subtitles. It is easy to miss subtleties in the visuals. The viewer is given the dilemma of missing the visuals or missing the words. All too often I see a two-line subtitle go up on a screen only to be pulled away one second later. I just do not read that fast. And what is particularly galling is that the next subtitle may be 30 seconds away. The subtitle is not being rushed away to make way for another subtitle. I think the philosophy is that a subtitle on the screen takes away from visual effect, so subtitles are whisked away as soon as possible or just a little sooner.
I have seen some films horribly butchered by the subtitles. At one time the process of subtitling seemed to involve branding the subtitles in place, but the process was not applied evenly. The effect was that parts of the subtitle image are missing on the print. It is impossible to read some of the words. More recent films do not have this problem but films like classic Samurai films may not have been re-subtitled and have illegible subtitles. I have even seen films in which the subtitles have been somehow misplaced. The subtitling appeared something like thirty-five seconds after the word is spoken in the visual.
A great deal of effort and art can go into a film, and if I am seeing the film in a foreign language there probably was enough artistic merit in the film to bring it to an audience who spoke a different language. In making the film I guarantee you that after a scene was shot, the director went back to check out how well the scene worked. I am convinced the director did that with all or almost all of the film. I very frequently however think that people who subtitle films frequently do not go back and check their work. How often do we get white subtitles on a white background? There should be enough contrast between the subtitles and the background so that words are not obscured. Subtitles should be in some color that does not appear as a background in the film. Ideally each letter should have a border that is of a contrasting color. And the letters should be large enough to be read from a distance.
Going to film festivals we learned to arrive early if we wanted to see a subtitled film and then sit behind someone short. Sitting behind someone too tall, the lower part of the screen can be obscured and that is just where the subtitles appear. There have been several subtitled films that I have gone to intending to review, but I had lost so much of the story because of subtitle problems that I no longer felt I could fairly review the film.
Writing a script for dubbing can be a beautiful art form of itself. A good subtitle writer can choose words that fit the movements of the mouths speaking the lines in a different language.
So do I choose dubbing over subtitling? No. Do I choose subtitling over dubbing? No. I choose whichever works better exclusively. Good subtitling is better than bad dubbing and good dubbing is better than bad subtitling. If I want to study a film I will usually choose subtitling. If I want to sit back and enjoy, I generally choose dubbing.
The best format for subtitling is to have the subtitles in a color that does not appear much in the picture. Have a black boundary around each character. This has been done for some films and I would have thought that other filmmakers would copy the format because it works. Sadly, that is not what has happened. Subtitling formats are still very much a mixed bag with some subtitles unreadable. In any cast I think the best answer to these problems is that the filmmakers have to go back and look at the subtitled prints they release to make sure that the subtitles are legible and easy to read throughout the entire film. They have to show an interest in whether the subtitling is done properly. [-mrl]
Frederik Pohl, R.I.P. (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Frederik Pohl (born November 1919) died Monday, September 2. As tribute, I will include part of my write-up of the tribute panel on him last year at Chicon 7, "Last Man Standing; Frederik Pohl":
This panel was held Saturday, 9:00 AM, with panelists: Jim Frenkel, Edward James, Dr. Elizabeth Anne Hull (mod), Robert Silverberg, and Joan Slonczewski. There were about 80 attendees.
Hull began by saying that Silverberg had predicted that no one would show up for this at 9AM, but he was clearly wrong.
There will apparently be e-book versions of some of Pohl's books soon: Baen did some, and Tor will do others.
Hull (who is Pohl's fifth and current wife) said that he proposed through an ad in LOCUS.
Frenkel pursued Pohl from 1975 to 1995 for a book to publish. A novel Pohl titled THE COMPLEXITIES OF COUPLED FAULTS had already been rejected by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Frenkel took it, but noted that the title on the cover would make Pohl's name very small, so it ended up as THE VOICES OF HEAVEN.
Referring to the title of the panel, Silverberg quoted Pohl as having said, "When all my friends are dead, it's my version of the story that counts." Silverberg said that although this was his 59th Worldcon and he has been a writer since 1955, Pohl was editing two magazines when Silverberg was learning to read. Pohl was going to science fiction conventions before Silverberg was born. Jack Vance is older than Pohl [and at the time of the panel was the only major science fiction author who was], but Pohl's range of achievement is greater. And Pohl is still active--he won a Hugo as Best Fan Writer for his blog, at http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com.
James reminded us that not only was he a great writer, but "Pohl was a bloody good editor as well." Hull said that editors learn from other writers' mistakes, and are also often part of a collaborative process with the writers. However, Silverberg added that as an editor, Pohl was a perverse title changed, and claimed that Pohl would have retitled WAR AND PEACE as THE SMELL OF GUNPOWDER. Frenkel claimed that Pohl three times tried to use the title "On the Way to the Escathon".
Silverberg pointed out that "space merchants" is a Madison Avenue term for people selling advertising space, so Pohl's book title was a pun.
What were the panelists' favorites of Pohl's works?
James said either GATEWAY or THE SPACE MERCHANTS. Frenkel listed "The Gold at Starbow's End", The Greening of Bed-Stuy", "Gwendana and the Supremes", and "The Mayor of Mare Tranq". Slonczewski named THE SPACE MERCHANTS and GATEWAY. Silverberg thought "Day Million" was one of the greatest science fiction stories ever. Hull responded that "Day Million" is a story that Pohl is willing to have inscribed on his tombstone.
Hull thought that too much science fiction is not emotional, and has no internal story. She liked YEARS OF THE CITY, a history of New York City in the future, told in two-hundred-year increments.
Slonczewski said that one thing she noticed was that Pohl had strong female characters from the beginning. David Brin said, "[Pohl's] predictive success is impressive" in works such as THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT. He also referred to Frederik Pohl and Poul Anderson as "the two poles of science fiction."
Hull said (to Brin?), "I am so pleased you came up with 'Pohlian' because "Pohlish" just didn't do it." Pohl's autobiography (THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS) is currently being updated. For example, Pohl was a high school dropout, but in 2009, Brooklyn Technical High School finally gave him an honorary diploma.
In 2009, Pohl was told by his doctor in 2009 that he had only two or three months to live. He lasted another four years and in that time won another Hugo.
[A few months before Chicon, LOCUS ran an interview with William F. Nolan titled "Last Man Standing", in which Nolan said that of the writers of his period, only he, Ray Bradbury, Frank M. Robinson, and Richard Matheson were still alive, and that he is the only one in good health. Nolan's first story was published in 1954: Pohl's first publication pre-dates that by seventeen years, in 1937 (when Nolan was nine years old). I suppose technically that means Pohl is a writer of an earlier period, but that is a technicality. I have no idea how LOCUS or Nolan managed to forget Pohl (or Jack Vance, who was still alive at the time as well). Matheson and Bradbury have since passed on as well, leaving Doris Lessing, James E. Gunn, Brian W. Aldiss and Ursula K. LeGuin as the oldest major science fictions.]
RED PLANET BLUES by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2013, Ace, $25.95, 356pp, ISBN 978-0-425-25682-4) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Part of the problem of having surgery that requires a somewhat lengthy rehab is the lack of energy to do anything other than what is required. Well, there's the surgery, *and* the process of moving our son into college. Between the two, there was not much time or energy for much else. My son is now in college, and I'm at the point in my recovery that I have the energy to do other things once again. Hopefully I'll be back to being more of a regular contributor than I've been recently. (I took a look and saw that I sent my last review to the MT VOID on June 15th. Yikes.)
So, as has been the norm over the last several years, the first book I read and review after what is sometimes a horrible slog (but not this year) through Hugo nominees is the latest book from Robert J. Sawyer. This year's entry is called RED PLANET BLUES, and it is both familiar and something different from what we've seen from Sawyer over the last several years. In RED PLANET BLUES, Sawyer returns to an off-planet setting for the first time in quite a while, as the story takes place on Mars (as I'm sure you could all gather from the title). It is also a crime/mystery novel, something that Sawyer has been known for in the past, and indeed he has won an award or two in that genre. Once again, Sawyer ventures into the realm of consciousness transference, which is a topic he has investigated and incorporated into his works time and again over the years. Putting these all together result in a pretty good detective novel set off planet that is enjoyable and fast paced.
The novel begins with a slightly altered (according to the Acknowledgements) novella "Identity Theft", which introduces the main character, detective Alex Lomax; the setting, Mars; and the main mysteries, the deaths of original Martian fossil prospectors Simon Weingarten and Denny O'Reilly, and what is called the Alpha deposit, the location of their original digs which is still a secret and one people would not be afraid to kill for.
After the conclusion of the "Identity Theft" portion of the novel, which in and of itself is a fine murder mystery that was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Lomax receives a visit from Rory Pickover, a prospector who actually has discovered the location of the Alpha deposit, and what he has found around it is a set of illegal land mines around the Alpha that is protecting it. It should be noted that Pickover is a "transfer", someone who has transferred their consciousness to an android-like construct. Pickover is just a bit messed up when he visits Lomax because a portion of his face was blown off by one of the land mines. Pickover doesn't want to get rich off the contents of the Alpha; rather, he wants to preserve the fossils for science to study. So he hires Lomax to find out who brought the land mines to Mars.
And so begins the wild ride that does eventually end up with Lomax solving the mystery. I really don't want to go into much of it here, since after all it is a mystery novel and pretty much anything I say can be a clue. What I will say is that RED PLANET BLUES is a terrific mystery in the noir tradition: detectives, dames, saloons, car (well, sort of) chases, snide humor, and all the rest of it. What Sawyer has done here is nicely melded SF and mystery. This story is not a mystery moved to Mars for the sake of calling it science fiction; rather, this story cannot be told if it was set on Earth. The planet's setting is integral to the story, so that unlike so many other novels that throw in a few SF tropes so it can be called science fiction, this one actually needs the tropes to tell the story. Once again, these things are integral to Sawyer's novel, and that's why I keep going back to his work.
I'm not generally a reader of mysteries, but this one sucked me in and worked well for me. I think you'll enjoy it. Even the Mars rover. [-jak]
ETERNITY: OUR NEXT BILLION YEARS by Michael Hanlon (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
I'm an avid collector and reader of futurist books, and am always on the lookout for new efforts in this area. Hanlon's 2009 book is unusual in that it both takes a long view, and attempts to tell the story in part with short SF vignettes. Thus ETERNITY is part science writing and part science fiction. I don't think Hanlon has much of a future in the SF field, but he is a professional writer and some of the stories are at least decent. The book is divided into three parts, titled, with great imagination, "Part I," "Part II," and "Part III," with the parts covering the most plausible futures, more far-out futures, and the distant future respectively. Hanlon is reasonably familiar with SF treatments of the future, and avoids for the most part the howlers that show up when people try to write about the future in ignorance of prior thought.
Hanlon starts with an essay on "temporal parochialism," the tendency to give too much weight to current events and too little to the big sweep of history. A good example is that even the great futurist Clarke famously envisioned the Cold War still continuing in 2001 in A SPACE ODYSSEY, yet it came to a close in 1989. Another example is the famous "flying car," so often predicted during the hey-day of the automobile, yet hard to find in the 21st century. Simply because there was enormous progress in transportation technology in the first half of the 20th century was not a good reason to suppose that similar progress would continue into 21st. Hanlon comes down on the side of predicting that in the near term there won't be major changes. He makes one howler when he says, in reference to the much lower cost of long distance phone calls, that "the technology has not changed dramatically, but the way it is used has." As a telephony professional, I assure you that this is just ignorant nonsense. The optical fibers and digital servers used to switch today's virtually free Internet telephone calls are light-years ahead of the copper wires and cross-bar switches of the 1930s.
In "Two Worlds" Hanlon considers the future of Africa, but adds little to the conversation that you can't find in FOREIGN AFFAIRS. "Apocalypse Postponed" makes the case that the world won't end soon, if ever. This assumption is more or less essential to any prediction of the long-term future, since if the world does end the prediction process becomes simple but rather dull. This essay demonstrates a decent knowledge of SF, and makes a good case that we should look forward more with hope than fear.
"Futures I will not see" attempts to dismiss several of what Hanlon regards as unlikely near or medium term futures. In doing so, he falls deeply into the kind of temporal parochialism he wants to avoid. Having moved from early 20th century predictions of a rather slow growth of space technology, with a moon landing projected for 2069, we saw the actual landing in 1969, a full century earlier. This was followed by a "space bust" which Hanlon is confident will continue, at least until 2100 or later. Ironically, more or less just after Hanlon wrote his book in 2009, we've seen an explosion of private interest in space that seems to be pushing relentlessly toward space tourism and eventual settlement.
Hanlon then moves to dismiss "Brave New World" by which he means any future in which genetic manipulation of the human genome has a major impact. Again, Hanlon is trapped by extrapolating the relatively slow pace of genetic research over the last 20 years into the idea that this will continue for a century or more. I suggest that he review one of the basics of prediction, the "S" curve of technology. All technologies follow this curve, which features a long period of slow growth followed by exponential impact followed by a leveling off. We can be confident that the real impact of genetic technology lies in the future, but one suspects not 100s of years in the future.
Hanlon is on better grounds in dismissing the existence of a "Borg- like" society, by which he means a land of conformity, and also when he suggests that an "Age of Reason" will not dawn. One needs only read the latest dispatch from the Syrian civil war to understand why this might be the case! A final stumble comes in "Metal Friends" where Hanlon dismisses the likely impact of robots on our near term futures. Ironically, this comes just as robots seemed poised, in the form of drones, driverless cars, wheeled avatars, and increasingly capable industrial devices, to have a much greater impact on society.
"The New World Order" brings together Hanlon's short-term political speculations, which are pretty much the same as you might find in, again, FOREIGN AFFAIRS. His thinking is hindered by misunderstandings of current events. For example, he fears "a resurgent Turkey embracing radical Islam" apparently having missed the memo that this process is well underway. His rose-colored view of Islam, which he claims had "no Islamic Inquisition" suggests a combination of ignorance and wishful thinking often found among European intellectuals. Another failure of Hanlon's predictive efforts (albeit one widely shared) is an assumption of rising energy costs and increased scarcity of fossil fuels, missing, of course, the age of cheap abundant natural gas that we have recently entered.
"Machines and Bodies" is a rambling essay that ranges from the computer revolution to the energy crisis to immortality, but suffers from the problem that mere pessimism is not a predictive technique. For example, I predict that flying cars are never likely to be common, absent some kind of completely new energy source, since they consume so much power. This isn't just pessimism--you do the math and see how it comes out. The same line of reasoning applies just as well to rocket packs. Hanlon is concerned about AIs ending the human race, and sets the reader up for an extended discussion in later chapters. His discussion of our energy future is commonplace, and offers little that you won't find in POPULAR MECHANICS. He is understandably pessimistic about immortality, although he seems to take little account of how early we are in this game. The chapter concludes with a weak and misleading set of predictions of human genetic change 10,000 and 100,000 years in the future. I think, taking a brief look at dog breeding over the last 10,000 years, that absent some kind of religious totalitarian government that effectively ends the technology enterprise, we are going to see a lot more human genetic change on long time scales than Hanlon envisions.
"Minds" is a weak essay partly cribbed from another book by Hanlon. You won't learn much here, and the essay is a poor guide to the future. Hanlon misses the main point about evolution--since there has been long term evolution toward larger brains and greater intelligence--there must exist genetic levers to control this process. It is only a matter of time until we find them. Part I concludes with "Wedding Belles"--an SF short story not to my taste describing a future wedding.
Part II opens with "We are the masters now," a narrated Stapledon- style history of the rise of the AI gods. Hanlon takes this prospect seriously, and in the following chapter "The Singularity Postponed" looks at all the usual singularity suspects, including Kurzweil. He concludes that although Kurzweil may be overly optimistic, the Singularity lies out there in our future, and even if we avoid it, some race, somewhere in the universe will do the dirty deed and unleash the Berserkers. "Eclipse" is a fictional take on a more hopeful post-Singularity future.
Part II wanders off the Singularity road and into the possible future of language in "Lingua Franca," an essay which suffers from a failure to consider fully the potential impact of nearly-perfect machine translation. "Planet of the Apes" considers the possible future of non-human species on the Earth. "Take us to your Leader" is a readable short story speculating on a possible first contact scenario. If you are starting to think that the chapters are a random assortment of essays written for other venues, you would not be far off. "Eight surprising discoveries" lists out eight areas where we might find something really different and interesting. Alas, for the most part Hanlon's speculations here are not very original. Part II concludes with "Talking to the Future," a consideration of whether or not it is possible to communicate in any way with the future via time capsules.
Part III opens with "Lost Ark Found," a SF story in which a time capsule from Part II is finally opened. The story is readable and entertaining, but not especially original. "A.D. One Million" returns us to an empty post-AI world to speculate on what might remain. "Something Wicked" is perhaps the best SF story in the book. It takes another perspective on the AI Gods and ends with a classic SF short-story surprise. "One last perfect Day" takes us far into the future, as life starts to fail on an Earth endangered by a growing sun. Humans and machines lie far in the past, as the narrator takes you on an ecological tour. This story may draw from sources I am not familiar with, but I found it new and interesting. "Eternal Earth--the dance of the continents" takes a long-term perspective on geological evolution. An "Epilog" attempts a gods'- eye view of the very end of time, always an ambitious enterprise.
Looking back at ETERNITY, it seems a jumble of topics, with an average quality of so-so, but with some quite interesting speculation on the very long term future and a couple of decent SF stories. However, as a book of short to medium term predictions, it seems more a reflection of the intellectual tendencies of present-day English intellectuals than a serious effort to predict the future. [-dls]
"Dial F for Frankenstein" (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to Evelyn's comments on TRSF in the 08/30/13 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
You'll probably get a bunch of these, but "Dial F for Frankenstein" is by Arthur C. Clarke and not Brian W. Aldiss. You may be confusing it with FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND.
"Dial F for Frankenstein" certainly does fit "an entity of one sort becomes sufficiently complex to make a quantum leap to another sort of entity". [-no]
Ooops! I must have confused the two titles or something. I definitely knew (at one time, anyway) that Clarke wrote "Dial F for Frankenstein". [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE BIG, BAD BOOK OF BEASTS: THE WORLD'S MOST CURIOUS CREATURES by Michael Largo (ISBN 978-0-06-208745-4) has what is to me a fatal flaw--it mixes real and legendary creatures. And the real creatures are not even just exotic creatures that seemed legendary to many people (e.g., elephants)--Largo includes dogs, cats, and eagles.
It is true that medieval bestiaries included both real and imaginary creatures, but the authors of those bestiaries believed the imaginary creatures to be real. Largo knows they are not real (though he does try to guess at how these descriptions came about).
WORMING THE HARPY AND OTHER BITTER PILLS by Rhys Hughes (ISBN 978-1-905784-31-8) is the second edition of this book. The first was published 1995 with sixteen stories; this 2011 edition adds an additional story. It also makes it much more affordable--the first edition was a limited run of 600 copies and they go for $400 and up these days. This one was much cheaper.
Indeed, that is a major problem in reading and/or collecting Rhys Hughes: so many of his books have been very limited editions that fetch high prices on the collectibles market. (Occasionally one can find an ex-library copy at a reasonable price.) I mention this only as a warning to you all--try to develop a taste for authors who are published by major publishing houses in large print runs.
(I got hooked on Rhys Hughes through his NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY, an homage to Jorge Luis Borges's UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY, and the only one of his books consistently available for a reasonable price.)
UBIK by Philip K. Dick (ISBN 978-0-547-57229-1) was the book chosen to go with the film CYPHER, though any Philip K. Dick where reality is not what it seems would probably have done. (Actually, the closest might be "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".)
Anyway, in UBIK strange things start happening. Some items seem to age very quickly: cigarettes from a new pack crumble to dust, milk delivered with your coffee seems to have turned several days ago, and people age and die like Amina in THE MUMMY'S GHOST or Maria in LOST HORIZON or even Ayesha in SHE. Other items seem to regress: you leave a 1959 car outside your house, but when you go out again, it is a 1939 car. Jet planes become propeller planes, and then biplanes, television sets become radios, and so on. This regression strikes our protagonist Joe Chip as odd:
"But why hadn't the TV set reverted to formless metals and plastics? Those, after all, were its constituents; it had been constructed out of them, not out of an earlier radio. Perhaps this weirdly verified a discarded ancient philosophy, that of Plato's idea objects, the universals which, in each class, were real. The form TV set had been a template imposed as a successor to other templates, like the procession of frames in a movie sequence. Prior forms, he reflected, must carry on an invisible, residual life in every object. The past is latent, is submerged, but still there, capable of rising to the surface once the later imprinting unfortunately--and against ordinary experience--vanished. The man contains--not the boy--but earlier men, he thought. History began a long time ago."
One does not usually find science fiction novels of the 1960s--or any era--based on this level of Platonic philosophy. The problem is that this still does not provide a unified explanation for the divergent phenomena. In one case time seems to be running backwards for objects, in the other, running forward faster than normal. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his money, the next worst his health, the next worst his reputation. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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