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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/27/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 13, Whole Number 1773
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Filmes, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
October 3: THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM 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 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: October 5: Nick Kaufman, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Not from Here (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We saw a truck labeled for their company "US Foods". Who would want to admit they made US Foods? We are the inventor of the McDonalds Hamburger and soft ice cream. We gave the world the deep-fried Mars bar and the Double Down chicken sandwich. The best you can say about US Foods is that we did not invent and probably don't even serve poutine. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for October (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Once again we have an October on TCM and Turner Classic Movies has lined up a passel of horror films. But this does not mean that that there are a lot to make an engrossing recommendation article about. Most will be familiar to anyone who is a real horror film fan. If you haven't seen THE DEVIL RIDES OUT you probably can find a lot of films you have not seen and by all means see them. But I probably am not going to write about it this month, because most fans will have seen it. I will not recommend any AIP or Hammer, though there are some goodies. I am going to recommend some more obscure films you might not know about. As usual, all times are East Coast times.
Ya' say ya' like Film Noir? You like those bleak dark movies? Well Turner Classic Movies have two of the darkest film Noir Films I know of.
You don't know Film Noir until you have seen two bleak films that are on TCM this month. Ordinarily I would have said that NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) is a very dark film, but you have not seen a dark film until you have seen THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943). However, first comes NIGHTMARE ALLEY. This is a film slaps down all your ambitions and then laughs in your face. What this film tells you is that no matter how big a fish you are right now there is always a bigger shark just waiting to take you down and swallow you. In a carnival a precocious and charming roustabout knows he has the talents to charm and win over other people. Tyrone Power plays the charismatic Stanton Carlisle who can size up a situation in seconds and can talk his way out of any tight spot. Stan knows just what his opportunities are and whom he can cheat and leave smiling. He has the fascination of a snake, but you cannot help but cheer for him on his rise to greatness. But at the top there is always a girl as friendly and inviting as a razorblade. This is one of the great films noir. [Wednesday, October 16, 9:45 PM]
Then there is THE SEVENTH VICTIM. This is the film that suggests...
Life is pain. Why don't you just kill yourself? Go ahead. Do it. It's so easy. All your pain will be gone. You can be at rest at last. Kill yourself. Go ahead. It will make everything so simple. So peaceful. Just go ahead and do it. -- Hey, if you think that NIGHTMARE ALLEY was grim you have to see THE SEVENTH VICTIM. This is a Val-Lewton-produced romance and flirtation with death. It is my personal favorite Val Lewton film and is as dark as any film ever made. Kim Hunter (Zira of PLANET OF THE APES) is looking for her successful sister who seems to have just vanished from the Earth. It seems the sister had some powerful friends--friends who happened to be devil worshipers. And they became displeased with the sister. It will not be easy or pleasant finding her. The final scene of the film is a shocker. [Friday, October 18, 11:15 PM]
KWAIDAN is sort of Japan's equivalent to DEAD OF NIGHT. It is four tales of ghosts and spirits written by Lafcadio Hearn who collected Japanese folk stories of the supernatural, stories of vengeful spirits and suffering ghosts. The use of color is nothing short of spectacular. Director Masaki Kobayashi was a brilliant stylist. In "The Black Hair" a samurai leaves his wife to fight in a war. He finds success and remarries, never thinking about the wife he left at home. But the spirits can avenge such bad treatment. The Woman of the Snow has a beautiful snow spirit who can be deadly. Hoichi the Earless tries to charm spirits of the dead with songs and accompany himself on the three-string biwa. But one cannot contact spirits and return unchanged. A Cup of Tea suggests that spirits can hide almost anywhere. If you are used to Bourne films this film may seem a trifle slow-paced. Go with it. [Sunday, October 20, 2:00 AM]
Hey, if you have not seen OF MICE AND MEN (1939), it's time. First you can see it for the Lon Chaney, Jr., performance that gave him a career. I won't say he is my favorite Lennie. (That would probably be my first, Nicol Williamson.) But OF MICE AND MEN is one of the great short novels. It is a powerful story. And I guess Chaney does a good job. [Wednesday, October 30, 8:00 PM]
My best film of the month would probably be OF MICE AND MEN. [-mrl]
FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A group of Texas filmmakers produced this faithful adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN and a half-shoestring budget. Syd Lance directs a script by writer/producer Judith B. Shields. The film falls short of commercial standards, but is still an ambitious effort with impressive results. It is a serious adaptation intended neither to amuse nor really to scare but to tell the classic story as faithfully as possible. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
It is a huge challenge to make a feature-length film adaptation of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN that is faithful to the novel. The plot of the novel is long and ponderous. One frequently hears that it never has been done by any film, but in fact it has. The film is VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (but has been retitled TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN). That film is slow and ponderous, but it is very much Mary Shelley's story. Now the new film FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER is arguably the second most faithful adaptation of the novel. That in itself would make the film remarkable. But what is as remarkable is that the film was made with $6000 and a lot of volunteer work. To attempt so difficult a goal with so little funding is highly ambitious, particularly for filmmakers with little experience.
To accommodate the low budget some Texan filmmakers shot the film in fourteen areas in and around Houston and Galveston. That meant moving the setting from Switzerland to what the alert eye will catch as Texas. Arctic scenes are moved to warm waters. An original score was written for the film. A prosthetic monster makeup was designed but accidentally lost so a novel and original approach was used to make the monster demonic. This Frankenstein monster steams. But since the idea was to make a "steampunk" version of FRANKENSTIEN, having the monster himself give off steam seems oddly appropriate. Where here the energy comes from is left to the imagination. This is also the first time in memory the Frankenstein monster is bearded. On a $6000 budget they were not paying the actor enough to get him to shave his beard off.
As this is a semi-amateur film several small problems are obvious. There are times when the sound drops, sometimes mid-sentence. There are times when the lips of the actors are not in sync with the words on the soundtrack. Some of the dialog is awkward and not what the character would say. The character William is killed but the actor still moves. An effect for lightning is singularly unconvincing and the monster's "steaming" is present in some scenes and not others. When the monster is not steaming (and even when he is) he does not appear monstrous. The script leaves some loose ends including a subplot of a student jealous of Frankenstein.
How and even if this film is going to be made available to the public remains to be seen. However, it should be of interest to fans of the horror film and perhaps even those interested in English literature. The filmmakers have attempted an adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN accurate to the novel, a feat rarely ever attempted. And it has worked as well as it has in spite of or because it was made on a mouse of a budget. The result is only semi-successful, but as good as the film is impressive. I rate FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
For an example of the texture of the film see:
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2952488/combined
BARBARIAN DAYS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A fascinating look at a subculture that few knew existed, the (fanatic) fandom of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan (called "the Cimmerian," "the Barbarian," and "the Destroyer.") With their amazing enthusiasm they have gone way beyond just being a club of fantasy fans. Director Damian Horan attends an annual fan gathering in Cross Plains, Texas, there to explore and share the world of Howard. Horan's camera captures four of the major fans to capture their histories, their attitudes, and their enthusiasm. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
To start with, you have to know who this fellow Robert E. Howard was, (though if you don't know, you probably will not have a great interest in the film BARBARIAN DAYS). Howard was a writer for pulp magazines in the 1930s. He wrote fantastic stories with muscular heroes who frequently decorate their lives with underdressed women and who face witchcraft, black magic, and monsters of the supernatural. He is a little less known for the Westerns and boxing stories, but they too have their fans.
Howard created several continuing characters such as Red Sonya, Bran Mak Morn, and Solomon Kane. But by far his best-known character is the mighty Conan, now the subject of three movies, several comic books, etc. Conan stories usually involve the hero fighting giants and sorcerers over-equipped with deadly cutlery and women under-equipped with clothing. In fact his stories are just the sorts of thing to entice a fourteen-year-old boy to read. The stories fit in a genre known as sword and sorcery, actually invented by Howard but now a standard breed of fantasy. Many of the great fantasy writers have written sword and sorcery, inspired by Howard. Bluntly put, Howard was not a great writer, at least no more than was Lewis Carroll or L. Frank Baum. But fans of Howard want their stories with all the flaws. When the books were republished in the 1960s another great fantasy author, L. Sprague DeCamp, rewrote the stories in what he considered better form. To the best of my knowledge Robert E. Howard fandom contains the only mass of fantasy fans who detest DeCamp.
Howard lived and wrote in what was then a sleepy wisp of a town in central Texas, Cross Plains. Though few in Cross Plains would say they have a strong affection for Howard's brand of writing, Cross Plains has adopted Howard, dead since 1936, as its most famous and favorite son.
There are multiple organizations of people celebrating Howard's writing, most notably the Robert E. Howard Foundation. And there is Howard Days, an annual pilgrimage to Cross Plains to compare notes, listen to presentations about Howard and his writing and to celebrate the stories that came from Howard's typewriter. The meetings, as shown in the film, are held in Butler Park next door to the tiny Robert E. Howard house where Howard lived and wrote. Ironically the park was built on the lot of the Butler house where Howard's neighbor lived and complained about Howard's noisy vocalizations of his stories as he wrote. Now there is a lot of discussion about Howard's stories just where the Butler family was bothered by them.
The Robert E. Howard Foundation publishes an APA--an amateur magazine for which the price is invited contributions to the magazine. Its name is RHUPA: The Robert E. Howard United Press Association.
Director Damian Horan captures the festivities and focuses on four fans at the top of the pile. One is Rusty Burke, sort of the elder statesman of the Robert E. Howard Foundation. He is working on a definitive biography of Howard. Will it eclipse the biography by another attendee Mark Finn? Nobody knows for sure. We also meet Finn. A third fan is Bill "Indy" Cavalier who wrangles together RHUPA. And the fourth major fan is Chris Gruber whose area of specialization is Howard's boxing stories. For him the attraction of Conan is that the barbarian carves his own fate. He need not make any effort to fit in. Conan just is what he is, and what he is is the meanest, toughest dude around. That has to be the basis of Conan's popularity. These people we meet are the biggest fans and scholars of Robert E. Howard and his writing.
In the film THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (a dramatization of a chapter in Howard's life), his girlfriend, Novalyne Price, tries to convince the young writer Howard that he should be doing realistic portraits of the world he sees around him, not the fantasy stuff. That came to mind as one Cross Plains attendee said that in school he refused to read. He was just not interested in reading. The teacher cajoled him into agree to read one book. She gave him a Conan book. In ten pages he was hooked and had been a reader ever since. Take that, Novalyne Price.
BARBARIAN DAYS is a roughly hewn film--Damian Horan's first feature. But the subject sells itself. Whether you are a Howard fan or not there is some fascination with the earnestness and enthusiasm of these devotees and what they have turned their reading preference into. It is something just short of a religion. I rate BARBARIAN DAYS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [You can better appreciate the film if you first see THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and/or visit the Howard home in Cross Plains.]
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1795560/combined
NEPTUNE'S BROOD by Charles Stross (copyright 2013, Ace Books, $25.95, 325pp, ISBN 978-0-425-25677-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Charles Stross is probably one of the most prolific SF writers of our time. No, I understand that Seanan McGuire leaves him in the dust, but nonetheless, Stross is turning out books at the rate of one or two a year (and he used to write more than that), and I have yet to find of book of his that I haven't liked.
The latest entry in the long list of fine Stross novels is NEPTUNE'S BROOD, a novel that is set in the same universe as SATURN'S CHILDREN. As you may remember from that novel, the human race is extinct. Well, that's not quite true, because it keeps coming back. In NEPTUNE'S BROOD, the human race is nearly extinct *again* (the inside cover flap says "for the fourth time", but I must have missed that somewhere along the line). And so, once again, our protagonist is not human. Krina Alizond-114 (I think that's actually shortened from a much longer name that appeared at least once during the course of the novel) is descended from the robots/androids that served humanity, one of which was the main character in SATURN'S CHILDREN.
Krina is on a pilgrimage to the planet Shin-Tethys to find her sister Ana. This is just no ordinary pilgrimage. You see, Krina and Ana each possess one half of something called the Atlantis Carnet. The Carnet is a "financial instrument" which contains great value. To put it more plainly, when the two halves of the Carnet are put together, an unimaginable amount of wealth is unlocked. And wouldn't you know, folks are after both Krina and Ana for that very reason.
Krina is on Taj Beacon, looking for a way to get to Shin-Tethys, so she books passage aboard a religious ship of sorts, the crew of which is on their own pilgrimage to spread the Fragile--those humans who are still left alive and are following this particular religious sect (it's all confusing after a while)--to various parts of the galaxy to help preserve the human race. The fun begins there, and of course doesn't stop when the ship is hijacked by a pirate ship, the captain and crew of which take Krina on board. Krina is interviewed by the captain, Rudi, who seems to know more about Krina and Ana than he is letting on. He agrees to take her to Shin-Tethys, for which in exchange Krina will introduce him to Ana.
And then the real fun begins, as Krina is separated from the pirates by the local constabulary and questioned, after which she joins the police force in looking for her sister.
Is there enough going on for you? But wait, there's more. And I'm not going to tell you what that "more" is, because it would give too much of the rest of the book away.
Stross spends what I believe is a sufficient portion of the novel describing Krina's family structure, how money actually works in this galactic society (we have slow, medium, and fast money, for example), how that money holds society together, and financial scams--in particular, the "FTL scam", which would ruin all of galactic society because it would change how the money system works, and in particular the Atlantis Carnet scam. These are all necessary to understand how the story is unwinding, and yet none of it feels like the standard infodump we have seen in so many novels in the past, and even still today. Stross weaves these explanations into the novel at the precise moments they are needed, so the reader doesn't feel like (s)he is getting useless information. I personally found the whole financial system ingenious, especially within the context of the story.
If you're one of the types of reader that feeds on character development and identifying with characters, this is a mixed bag. Stross gives us just enough background of Krina (and Ana) to make us understand why they're doing what they're doing, but beyond that, don't look for too much character driven stuff. This is a book of ideas, ideas which drive the motivation of the characters, ideas which drive the story. I think Stross does this very well, and he certainly does it terrifically here.
NEPTUNE'S BROOD is one of the better books I've read in awhile--I heartily recommend you go find a copy and read it. You don't need to have read SATURN'S CHILDREN to read this one; I did find it odd that the book is called NEPTUNE'S CHILDREN, in fact. Maybe I missed something somewhere. Still, it's a terrific read. [-jak]
Science Fiction Timeline of Inventions (comment by Jim Susky):
Jim Susky writes:
I've attached an exhaustive overview of "ideas, technology, and inventions" found in SF.
The list goes back to Kepler in 1634 and "ends" in 2012.
(I imagine it gets updated annually more-or-less.)
This site is the source for this bounty:
Short description follows:
"Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas, Technology and Inventions (sorted by Publication Date)"
Most of these items are linked to information about similar real-life inventions and inventors; click on an invention to learn more about it. [-js]
Purses and Trash (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Keith F. Lynch, Philip Chee, ppint.at.play, and David Harmon):
In response to the closing quote in the 09/06/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
I see the closing quote this time around is:
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 Butler
Have you ever used Shakespeare's words in OTHELLO, 'Who steals my purse steals trash,' etc.? [-tm]
Keith Lynch responds:
I have. And of course I agree with it. [-kfl]
To which Philip Chee aska:
You put trash in your wallet? [-pc]
Fools those damned pickpockets every time! [-tb]
ppint.at.play also responds:
- frequently: shopping and atm receipts, plus odd bits & pieces of paper upon which i've written information i want to transfer to some more permanent place at home, or which may be of only temporary importance, or even significance to me.
- don't you?
- but the shakespearean sense is revealed by the context: one's purse is essentially replaceable, and of little value compared with those things that are not; trust, friendship, honour, love, reputation...
- love, a ppint. as's seen the value of coins drop from worth keeping in one's purse to spend, to barely worth picking up and saving... [-pap]
To which Keith Lynch says:
And David Harmon writes:
I do; it's a bad habit I should break. The cashier hands me my change and the receipt together and I put them both in my wallet. Before too long all the green has been replaced with white trash. [-dh]
Keith Lynch answers:
Receipts aren't trash. They could save you from a wrongful conviction for theft. And could also provide an alibi for a crime that took place elsewhere at the time you got the receipt. I always save my receipts for a year or for as long as I have what they're the receipt for, whichever is longer. [-kfl]
[A long discussion of whether a receipt actually provides an alibi for a specific person followed.]
Beloit College Mindset List (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2017 in the 08/30/13 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
The first of these--for the class of 2002--rang all kinds of bells for me.
I quite agree that the (class of) 2017 list was not so striking. To be quite honest--much of it was downright obscure (to me).
Among the multitude of possible reasons for this I'll offer these:
1) Most of the "good ones" were already used (though I didn't check this).
2) The current writer (or committee) for this year was lazy, indifferent, or just not that knowledgeable. On re-read this is a rehash of your conjecture:
3) (my favorite) These days Mass Culture is not what it was pre-internet, pre-cable television--it has become greatly diluted. Exponential growth in culture choice has made the "commonalities" much less common (because there are so many more of them)--thus much less striking.
4) (more personal--less general) My own consumption of mass (and "elite") culture remains largely unchanged. The rest of the world is leaving me behind. Until a few years ago I resisted carrying a cell phone, do not "text", and feel no compulsion to get a phone "smarter" than I am. I consider twitter/tweeting/tweets to be a travesty--a wretched dumbing-down of email. I have a Facebook page but consider the usual mindless "liking" of platitudes to be the twitter version of a proper comment (GoodReads--Facebook for bookworms--is much preferable). Much of the time others spend focused on smart phones is spent by me reading--but since I figured out my DVR I do less of that. [-js, Class of 1982]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have never seen the "Rumpole" television series, and though I may have read one or two of the stories, I am hardly familiar with them. So when I saw A RUMPOLE CHRISTMAS by John Mortimer (ISBN 978-0-14-311791-9) on bag day at our local Friends of the Library book sale, I threw it into the bag. (Well, actually I packed it neatly in order to maximize the number of books I could fit into the bag.) I don't know if Mortimer writes a Christmas story every year; these span the period between 1997 and 2006. While they all have a Christmas theme, they are not of the cloying "Christmas spirit" sort (well, most of them aren't anyway), and there are definitely characters not redeemed by the joy of the season. I doubt I will seek out all the volumes of Rumpole, but they do have a certain charm, and the "mysteries" are often non-standard sorts--not just "who killed Lady Whatsis in the parlor?" or "Why is my butler acting so strange?"
SIX MONTHS IN THE SANDWICH ISLANDS by Isabella L. Bird (ISBN 0-8048-1112-1) describes the voyage that made Bird into the renowned Victorian explorer she was. During her stay in the Sandwich Islands (now called Hawaii), she "caught the travel bug" and eventually became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society. Her descriptions (at least for the Sandwich Islands) run more to the geological and botanical than the ethnographic, but that may be due to the low population density in much of the islands, and the high proportion of Americans, English, Chinese, and others.
SHERLOCK HOLMES WAS WRONG: REOPENING THE CASE OF THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Pierre Bayard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) (ISBN 978-1-59691-605-0) seems to be a bit of a follow-up to Bayard's WHO KILLED ROGER ACKROYD? Both are re-examinations of classic mysteries, with Bayard eventually concluding that the evidence as given in the novel leads to a very different conclusion as to the perpetrator than the author gives as the solution.
Now clearly, there are some philosophical problems in this. After all, in a real-world sense the background, characters, and plot of each novel are the creation of the author, and it is meaningless to claim that the author is wrong in his stated solution. On the other hand, one might arguably claim that the conclusions drawn in "The Final Problem" are in fact wrong--Sherlock Holmes was not in fact dead. Bayard points out that in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES the story is related by Watson (with input from Holmes), and that they could be wrong in their conclusions, just as they have been wrong other times. (I am not sure this argument transfers to THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, because in that we have an actual confession, though I suppose Bayard may argue that the person confessing may in fact be shielding someone else or some such.)
Anyway, if you find this sort of analysis interesting, you will want to give this a try. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as a dog does. --Christopher MorleyTweet
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