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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/11/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 15, Whole Number 1775
Table of Contents
Notice (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have two things to say:
1) Some of you have suggested that the occasional jokes I put at the beginning of the MT VOID are really part of a fiendish CIA plot to play with the minds of our readers and to control them. This is conspiracy thinking of the worst kind. I will say right now that I have never been paid to run any article in the MT VOID. And certainly not by the United States Government. It is ridiculous to think anyone cold control minds in this way.
2) The opening jokes will be on hiatus until the government shutdown is over.
Promotion for New Remake of CARRIE:
30 Great SFF Films You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen [But Most of Which We Have] (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper):
Continuing on with the films recommended at the LoneStarCon 3 panel "30 Great SFF Films You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen"
Maybe it is just us, but we *have* seen many of the films that we almost certainly haven't seen. Mark annotates those films he has experienced. Today we look at films selected by Elektra Hammond and Perrine Lurie. [And apologies for misspelling Elektra"s name as "Electra" at one point in last week's issue.]
The Fall of the Roman Republic (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have been listening to Dan Carlin's podcast, "Hardcore History", and in particular the episodes on the fall of the Roman Republic. Carlin traces it through Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus, Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar, but some of the most striking parallels between then and now are in the period of Tiberius Gracchus.
At the time of Tiberius Gracchus the accumulation of most of the land in the hands of the few (i.e., wealth disparity) was causing major problems. Tiberius was elected Tribune of the Plebes, and as such, proposed enforcing the existing law limiting land holdings by a single individual, but with recompense paid to those who had illegally acquired too much land. This (not surprisingly) was opposed by land-holders. Since the veto of a single Tribune was enough to block a bill, the land-owners found a (land-holding) tribune who would veto it.
So according to Plutarch, Tiberius "issued an edict prohibiting all other magistrates from transacting public business" and prevented quaestors from drawing out money from, or putting money into, the public treasury until a vote was held (government shut-down). Other versions say he used his veto to prevent any bills from being passed, but the effect was the same--he shut down the government.
Eventually the bill finally passed. But in retribution, the land-owners in the Senate refused all requests from Tiberius even reasonable ones (e.g., a tent for work in redistributing land).
Tiberius then ran for tribune a second time, which some describe as against the law (though this is not entirely clear), and everyone agrees was against tradition. (Of course, when FDR ran for a third time, that was against tradition, but not against the law.) In other ways as well, he used the tribunate in ways not intended.
Tiberius then proposed a lot of social reform measures, including decreasing the period of military service, giving people the right of appeal from juries, and calling for the admission of equites onto juries. The "crowning touch" was when Tiberius disputed the Senate's right to dispense the land that the King of Pergamon's willed to "the people of Rome", and the grounds that he as Tribune of the Plebes, and not the Senate, represented "the people of Rome."
Ultimately, violence ensued, and Tiberius was killed by a mob stirred up by his opponents in the Senate.
For what it's worth, Dan Carlin lists the following as frequently-given causes of the fall of the Roman Republic:
Now I admit that they are a lot of differences between then and now. But the parallels that do exist are disturbing. [-ecl]
GRAVITY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In a spacesuit you can't bite your fingernails. On a mission to repair the Hubble telescope things go very wrong and two astronauts are set adrift in space. They have to engineer their own rescue against huge odds. This is a film of solid tension and suspense set against the exquisite background of orbital space. The film is visually beautiful and the science for the most part seems on the money right down to how the spacesuits move in a weightless environment. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star and the film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron of CHILDREN OF MEN. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Back when I read science fiction as a teen I generally liked stories that had a high level of credibility. Those stories had authors like Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein who used to be accurate to the science of the day. Writers like Arthur C. Clarke usually would base a good story around scientific principles. He would write a novel like A FALL OF MOONDUST, in which a lunar surface vehicle would fall into an ocean of dust and would have to be rescued obeying the physical laws of a very not earthlike and hostile environment. This is a very different breed of science fiction from the sort we see in action films like this year's OBLIVION or ELYSIUM.
GRAVITY is a film that realistically looks at a problem that happens in orbit around the Earth and must be solved with scientific and engineering genius rather than with guns. But we get few science fiction films of that sort. In fact, while APOLLO 13 was technically a history film and GRAVITY is science fiction, they are very close in spirit. The conditions of space create the problem and it has to be solved using knowledge of science and engineering and one heck of a lot of creative thinking. Let me give you this straight. When you have to face this sort of problem failure darn well *is* an option, even if it is a tragic one. In fact it can be darn near inevitability. And that is what gives the story its suspense.
Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are space walking outside the space shuttle trying to repair the Hubble Telescope. Stone is still wet behind the ears and is all business. Kowalski has more homespun, slightly off-color jokes than did Spielberg's Abraham Lincoln. He jokes with Stone and he jokes with Mission Control (played not too surprisingly by Ed Harris). Then it all goes wrong. Nearly everything that Stone and Kowalski need to survive is blown away. They have to depend heavily on each other if they are ever going to get back to Earth. The film is short, 91 minutes, and there is not a lot of plotting to it. We get just a rudimentary back story for the two major characters. For them what is important is what is happening here and now. Then the rest of the film is just an extrapolation from the set-up as to what the characters might do to save their lives.
The cause of the problem seems very unlikely and very dependent on coincidence (though I am not enough of an expert to say for sure). What seems even more improbable is a set of coincidences in the last ten minutes of the film. And more unlikely still is that when large objects collide in this film we hear them on the soundtrack, in spite of the fact we are in a vacuum. When large bodies collide I am sure I heard a bump sound. The claim has been made that is only true in the trailer, but I am sure I heard it happening in the actual movie.
There are only seven characters in the entire cast and four of them are only voices. One is CGI with an actor's voice. This is a film about the wonder and terror of orbital space flight above the planet. Stone is a medical engineer in space for the first time who has little confidence and has to be taught by Kowalski to handle herself in an emergency. Pilot Kowalski who has been flying space missions for decades is a blunt instrument with course jokes who considers himself just a fancy truck driver, but he gives the kind of kind support you would want from someone who was lost with you in space.
Alfonso Cuaron coauthored the script with his son Jonas Cuaron. They gave us a human story far from any other humans. It is genuine science fiction of the purest kind. I rate GRAVITY a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
I am going to be nit-picky. One inaccuracy is that it is impossible to place the setting of this story in time. There is no Chinese space station in 2013 so it takes place some years in the future, but also there will be no more space shuttles in space. NASA probably is moving on to using the Space Launch System (SLS). Undoubtedly it could have been used in this film rather than the Space Shuttle, but SLS has as yet little audience recognition value.
Wikipedia on the Space Launch System: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Launch_System
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454468/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/gravity_2013/
THE CASTLE PROJECT: COLORADO'S HAUNTED MANSION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The Croke-Patterson Mansion, considered one of the most haunted sites in Denver, is studied by its new owner, Brian Higgins. Higgins claims to have seen ghostly happenings while renovating. This film tells the history of the mansion, the stories about some of its former owners, shows some automatic camera footage worthy of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and reveals Higgins' own speculations why this house seems to attract spirits. What director Higgins captures on film is less than convincing to the skeptical eye. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Full Disclosure: I am a confirmed skeptic when it comes to paranormal stories. There is not much in this that could convince me of the existence of ghosts. I keep an open mind, but there is no evidence in this film that would be difficult to fake for the camera.
The Croke-Patterson Mansion really is a notorious building in Denver and has been the focus of stories of ghosts and strange happenings. Much like the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, it has stoked local imagination and inspired legends. Whenever you have a local myth of this sort it will attract stories that are purely made-up but attention-getting or profitable. Director Brian Higgins, who is also the building's owner and its newest architect, wants to turn the mansion into a "boutique hotel" with a mysterious reputation. This may suggest his motives for making this film.
The Croke-Patterson is an ornate Chateau-esque home built in Denver in 1891. The building is purported to be haunted and it is the setting for a large collection of stories and rumors of odd noises, odder odors, guard dog suicides, and apparitions. In working on the building Higgins came in contact with the building's strange history. He decided to spend some nights in the house and set up an automatic camera to record any strange phenomena. The results he brought together to create this documentary.
The film divides its narrative into chapters on topics such as Thomas Patterson, a newspaper editor who traded ranch land to own the house. There is a chapter on the architecture. There are chapters devoted to eyewitness accounts of strange happenings in the house. Of particular interest is the chapter on Night 1. The automatic camera picks up lights on the wall. Higgins quickly dismisses the possibility that what he is seeing are so-called "orbs." Orbs are the film says, "ghosts traveling as balls of light." He claims instead it is dust. It looks nothing like dust or like orbs. It is very obviously a beam from a light coming from the right of the camera with the source out of camera range. It loses its round shape when it hits a wall at a different angle--just what you would expect from a flashlight beam. By not acknowledging the obvious, Higgins sheds serious doubt on his credibility.
There is not a lot in this "documentary" you could not find in a "found-footage" horror film. None of the images captured on camera would be hard for even an amateur filmmaker to create.
THE CASTLE PROJECT: COLORADO'S HAUNTED MANSION is being released in the Halloween season, which of course seems appropriate. But there is not much reason to consider this as being any more than a low-budget horror film dressed as a documentary. I hate to squelch the cottage industry built around the reputation of this mansion, but I rate THE CASTLE PROJECT: COLORADO'S HAUNTED MANSION a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
THE CASTLE PROJECT: COLORADO'S HAUNTED MANSION was released on DVD October 1 and will also be available through video on demand.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2547650/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_castle_project/
World War II (letters of comment by Peter Trei, Keith F. Lynch, Tim Bateman, Richard Todd, and Tim McDaniel):
In response to Tim Bateman's comments on World War II in the 10/04/13 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:
All three Baltic States had significant anti-Soviet resistance Movements after the Soviet Union re-occupied the area. After Stalin's death in 1953, there was an amnesty offered to the 'Forest Brothers', which many took up, effectively ending the resistance. Some hung on; one of the last Estonian FBs committed suicide rather than be captured in 1978.
The last known surviving Japanese Army soldier was arrested in 1974 in Guam. [-pt]
Keith F. Lynch asks:
In what sense did WWII extend to 1953 in Lithuania? [-kfl]
And Tim B. responds:
As [Peter Trei] alludes to above, after the Germans were kicked out by the Red Army in 1944 or 1945, some Lithuanians decided to try to kick the Soviets out. This is simplification, as is the notion that the Lithuanians fought all invaders, i.e. allied with Germany against the Sovs, then with the Sovs against Germany, then fought the Sovs alone. [-tb]
I wouldn't consider defense against Soviet aggression, other than By Axis power, to be a continuation of WWII. [-kfl]
Tim B. replies:
Well, it's the old "definition of WWII" question, isn't it? Clearly for Lithuanians, the issue was that they were invaded by the Germans and then, immediately after, invaded by the Soviet Union. At least. I suspect that what was going on at Midway and Hiroshima was of as much concern to them as the main war was to George Washington in 1776. [-tb]
Tim McDaniel says:
Your timeline differs from mine. In mine, the Soviets occupied Lithuania in June 1940, then the Germans occupied it in June 1941, then the Soviets occupied it again around July 1944. And the first (Soviet) occupation was based on a Soviet-German pact dividing up central Europe, so I think it's plausible to argue that it was tied up in WWII. [-tmd]
And Tim B. agrees:
Your timeline differs from mine. In mine, the Soviets occupied Lithuania in June 1940, then the Germans occupied it in June 1941, then the Soviets occupied it again around July 1944. And the first (Soviet) occupation was based on a Soviet-German pact dividing up central Europe, so I think it's plausible to argue that it was tied up in WWII. [tb]
Richard Todd answers Keith:
Dunno about Lithuania or 1953, but IIRC there's a sense where for some Germans the war didn't end until 1950 or so [*]--some German POWs were kept in Russian POW camps years after the official end of the war in 1945. ObSFTrivia: one of those young German soldiers was Walter Ernsting, who later went on to become one of Germany's most famous SF writers.
[*] I thought it was 1950 (as best I recall from reading the Langhans bio of Ernsting), but according to http://www.perrypedia.proc.org/wiki/Clark_Darlton it was actually 1952 instead. Either way, still a fairly long time. [-rt]
Keith responds to Richard:
How long after 1945 did the other Allies keep Axis POWs? How long after the end of a war are POWs usually kept? It usually takes some time to make sure that a war is really and truly over.
It's my understanding that most of the many Americans who fly POW/MIA flags believe that after 40 years Vietnam is still holding American POWs. [-kfl]
On the original question of the end of the war, Tim McDaniel says:
In another sense, the war didn't end for Germany until 15 March 1991, when the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany took effect. The war was with "Germany", which didn't exist from 1950ish until 1990, so a peace treaty couldn't happen until there was a Germany to negotiate and ratify it. In the Treaty, Germany accepted the Potsdam Agreement and certain other conditions (borders, limited numbers of armed forces, former East Germany could not have foreign forces or nuclear weapons, et cetera).
In such a sense, World War II still continues: there's been no formal peace treaty between the Japan and the USSR/its continuation state. [-tmd]
Keith responds to Tim McD:
Huh? It was Nazi Germany which negotiated and ratified the peace treaty. (The Nazi regime briefly continued to exist after the Allied victory. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flensburg_Government)
Is Japan still trying to get the south half of Sakhalin back?
A better argument can be made that the Korean war never ended, since there's still great hostility. [-kfl]
And Evelyn notes:
Check the entry in Wikipedia for the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany" that Tim mentioned above. The Potsdam Agreement of 1945 was merely a provisional agreement. [-ecl]
Team Names (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on team names in the 10/04/13 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Actually, "the Broncos" isn't completely out of date as a team name, and it was pretty forward of them at the time to think of naming themselves after a line of autos. I hope they get a good piece for that, or at least a free truck every so often. Continuing the conceit, I suppose, I could point to the Durham Bulls and the Mighty Ducks, but where are the Seattle Starbucks? the Cupertino Apple Corps? the Burbank Peacocks?
If I was in charge of naming teams, apart from the inevitable civil unrest and rash of suicides, I might go for the new nebulous that athletic associations seem to go for these days, and try to make the names suited for their locales. Thus, the DC Gridlock, the Boston Snarl, the LA Sprawl, and the Denver Brown Cloud, for starters. [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THEY STILL CALL ME JUNIOR by Frank Coghlan (ISBN 978-0-786-46381-7) is Coghlan's memoir of his life in Hollywood as the child actor playing Billy Batson in the "Captain Marvel" serials and later in the navy as a pilot and Hollywood liaison. While some of the various anecdotes are interesting (and occasionally salacious), the long plot descriptions of every film he was in serve more as padding than as revealing of anything worthwhile. This book is an example of the minimal editing that McFarland reportedly does, with such errors as "descendants" when "ancestors" is meant, or "gratuitously" instead of "done at no charge." Unless you are fascinated by child stars, there is little here to enthrall you.
THE OFFICE OF MERCY by Ariel Janikian (ISBN 978-0-670-02586-2) is marketed as adult fiction but reads like a YA novel, and not a very good one. Though many reviewers compare it to 1984, it is closer to BRAVE NEW WORLD, with its decanting of Alphas, Betas, and so on, with its use of the word "mother" as an obscenity, and with its contrast between the highly controlled and structure "Inside" and the primitive "Outside".
The book is full of awkward constructions, such as "she clutched a synthetic-protein wool (or prote-wool) blanket close to her neck." "Synthetic-protein wool" the blanket may have been, but we would not write in a realist novel, "She clutched an alpaca wool blanket close to her neck," let alone call it a "alp-wool" blanket. I am reminded of the tendency in early science fiction for people to wear chronographs instead of watches and use visi-ports instead of windows. (Apparently in this future they have "waste-release stalls" instead of toilets.)
And the entire story is based on something that is unlikely, to say the least. All in all, you can skip this one. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it. --Groucho MarxTweet
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