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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/15/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 20, Whole Number 1780
Table of Contents
Puzzle for "Game of the States" Players (submitted by Tom Russell):
The geography teacher assigns her students a special challenge:
Plan a trip through the 48 contiguous US states, starting in a state with eight neighboring states, and visiting each state just once.
When she grades the papers she finds that of her 27 students, just eleven have proper trips. All eleven trips are different, as she expected, but to her surprise the 42nd state visited is the same state on all eleven correct trips.
What is the likelihood of this happening? [-tlr]
The 1938 Dramatic Retro Hugos (comments by Mark and Evelyn Leeper):
Evelyn and I each produce a great deal of fan writing between us, but we have not co-authored a piece for years. This is sort of a halfway step in that direction. Here we are conjoining what are really two different articles. She is going to formally explain what the 1938 Dramatic Retro-Hugos are, and then I somewhat less formally will comment on the eligible dramatic works.
Section 3.13 of the constitution of the World Science Fiction Society says, "A Worldcon held 50, 75, or 100 years after a Worldcon at which no Hugos were presented may conduct nominations and elections for Hugos which would have been presented at that previous Worldcon." These are known as Retrospective Hugos or Retro-Hugos for short. Since the first World Science Fiction Convention was held in 1939, but no Hugos were awarded, and 1939 plus 75 is 2014, Retro-Hugos can be awarded at the 2014 Worldcon in London next year, and the committee has apparently decided to do so.
Two of the categories are Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) and Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), and the question has arisen as to what dramatic presentations would be eligible, that is, what were the science fiction or fantasy dramatic presentations of 1938?
Just to clarify, the dividing line between Long Form and Short Form is 90 minutes, but there is a 15% leeway, so anything 77 minutes or longer could be considered Long Form. Given the paucity of Long Form items for 1938, the 15% leeway is necessary to have any sort of candidate pool.
The candidates for Long Form seem to be:
Short Form, Films:
Note that I say "Films" for that Short Form list. That is because 1938 was a year in which the predominant medium for Short Form science fiction and fantasy pieces was not film, but radio. (And just for completeness' sake, there were some fantasy plays produced on Broadway and elsewhere, and the BBC telecast a version of R.U.R., but there is no way for current voters to see any of these [the BBC telecast recording has been lost].)
Back to Mark:
1938 was a bad year for science fiction films. I have not seen some of the movies but three of the films just seem to be giving the public more of what they have already had.
The "Topper" films are amusing but they are mostly the same joke over and over. Cosmo Topper never figures out that that he cannot talk to people that nobody else can see without appearing schizophrenic. That would not be possible for most people until the invention of the cell phone.
THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 is not really a sequel. It is a variety show with comedy, singing, and a little touch of science fiction thrown in. In this case the science fiction is a new form of boat propulsion capable of very high speeds. There is little to attract mostly based on then near future technology. There is something for everyone of 1938 and not a lot for anyone.
Incidentally it was common at this time to sprinkle a little soft science fiction into musicals and light comedies. I suspect it was to encourage people beaten down by the Great Depression that a better world was coming and progress was being made. It was similar to putting an airship dock on the top of the Empire State Building. People needed a little taste of the future in their lives.
In general the serials, such as FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS, were not sources of great writing. There is one good non-serial film though rare that I know is a film of quality for its time.
I have not exhaustively seen these films, but I ACCUSE is an anti- war film by the great Abel Gance who wrote and directed NAPOLEON (1927). The idea is that the powers of Europe do not realize how bad the Great War had been. They are continuing along the same paths that have in the past led to more war. Eventually the War Dead, watching the events from the other world have gotten fed up that nobody has learned the lesson of their death. They rise from their graves in various states of decomposition. They march on the living to protest the continuing of warlike ways. Is the imagery effective? Well, seeing the dead return is pretty much always scary. In that way it was effective. Did the warning get taken? Well, this *was* 1938. You decide.
Then there are the radio programs. I have not heard a lot of them, but I can suggest some of the best and a few that are middling.
As far as what has left the strongest impression there is no doubt. The most famous radio broadcast of all time was in 1938 and was sci- fi. This was of course the Orson Welles's "Mercury Theater" adaptation of H. G. Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS. I will presume the reader is familiar with the broadcast and how it panicked a significant fraction of the country. I, however, do not consider that the best fantasy broadcast of the year. That honor should probably go to "Mercury Theater"'s premier performance a few months earlier. It was the first dramatization of Bram Stoker's DRACULA that was faithful to the novel. The biggest deviation was the elimination of the character Renfield. Most of the rest of the novel was right there in a one-hour radio play. "The War of the Worlds" broadcast was nowhere nearly as faithful to its source. But Welles could be more accurate than a film version because on the radio it cost only words to have Van Helsing chase Dracula across Eastern Europe. That would have been much more expensive in a film. Action that takes a moment to describe on the radio can take minutes on a cinema screen. And time can be precious in a film that is maybe 110 minutes long.
In any case, here is my guide to fantasy on the radio in 1938. With each I give a URL where audio samples can be found and ..., well ..., sampled. In all but one case I found pieces from 1938. For that one you will have to settle for a 1939 episode. For most of these I just point to sample episodes to represent the whole series, though the rules for the Retro-Hugos require the nomination be for a specific episode. For Orson Welles's plays, each has to be considered on its own because they are so distinct, so those I have broken these out by play.
Buck Rogers was a man from the 20th century who by accident was put into suspended animation and awakened in the 25th Century. Here he has the twin tasks of learning his way around the new improved world and running after future gangsters like Killer Kane. The series was based on a newspaper comic strip. Buck's friend Dr. Huer invented whatever Buck needed to aid him on his adventures.
--"A Christmas Carol" (Campbell Playhouse)
Orson Welles prospered from his huge trick on the American people. He remained on the air and he got a sponsor, the Campbell's Soup Company. His Christmas broadcast that year was "A Christmas Carol" based on the Charles Dickens.
--"Dracula" (Mercury Theater)
Mercury Theater's first program of their series was an hour-long audio adaptation of Bram Stoker's DRACULA. This is a very impressive program in that it is quite faithful to the novel. The major difference was the omission of the character Renfield. But most of the story is there. There was not another faithful adaptation until the PBS/BBC production COUNT DRACULA almost four decades later. This is an excellent example of Welles' mastery of the radio medium.
This series was an updating of and a sequel to "The Lone Ranger." The hero, Britt Reid, who used the secret identity of the Green Hornet, was the grandnephew of the Lone Ranger. His faithful sidekick was Cato. In 1938 Cato was probably still Japanese. Later the writers said he was Korean and hence not of the people who brought you Pearl Harbor. The Hornet was peaceful and used a gas gun that simply made people unconscious for a little while.
--"Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon"
This series (serial) ran daily between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1938. According to Amazon, "Santa Claus has been kidnapped and is being held prisoner in the Land of Squeebobble. Accompanied by the Man in the Moon and a horse named Gorgonzola, Jonathan travels to the Merry-Go-Round River, the Rainbow Bridge, the Wall of Doors, and Looking Glass Land in a wild and imaginative adventure drawn from classic fairytales."
Alex Raymond, who created the comic strip "Flash Gordon", also created another serial strip with his hero Jungle Jim. A radio serial was based on the character and ran from 1935 to 1954 with Gerald Mohr taking the title role in 1938 succeeding Matt Crowley. It told one long story in 15-minute pieces. The series was later adapted to TV with Johnny Weismuller taking the role.
CBS took great pride in this wholesome radio series for children. Kids were treated to Arabian Knights, to fairy tales by Andrew Lang and the brothers Grimm, and generally to gentle fantasy stories. The show specialized in developing children into actors.
Horror themes were particularly suited to the radio medium as audio horror stories probably began around fires in the dark. There were several horror radio programs, but in 1938 Lights Out had no competition for grisly chills. They specialized in sound effects and Grand Guignol plots. Sound effects were created for breaking of bones and human heads chopped by cleavers. In 1938 the writer/director of the series was Arch Oboler. Oboler's most famous sound effect was a wet rubber glove being pulled off a hand as a sound effect for a man being turned inside-out. In 1938 among his stories was the now-famous "Chicken Heart", made famous in comedy routines since then.
Radio's most popular super-hero was probably Lamont Cranston, who was the secret identity of the Shadow, a man with the strange power to cloud men's minds so that they do not see him. He was sort of the "Invisible Man" as a crime-fighter. Later he also had the power to read minds. Initially the Shadow just started out as the host of a crime show. When the producers got the idea to actually make him a character in the story the sponsors said no. Eventually when the sponsors were told that if they made the Shadow a character, they could always go back to the original format if the character did not catch on. The Shadow did catch on and his program was the highest rated program on the radio. A pulp magazine was started with a character called the Shadow, but who did not have the psychic powers. The show started with the Shadow asking "Who knows... what evil ... lurks in the hearts of men? ... The Shadow knows." The show ended with Shadow's pronouncement, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows." In 1938 the Shadow was played by Orson Welles. September 25 the role went instead to Bill Johnstone.
--"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (Lux Radio Theatre)
"Lux Radio Theatre" ran for twenty years, adapting first Broadway plays and later films for radio. In 1938, they adapted the Disney film (which, given that it was known for its landmark animation, seems a little odd).
--"Treasure Island" (Mercury Theater)
Orson Welles' first Mercury Theatre broadcast was an excellent adaptation of Dracula. His second was his version of Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND. I know. That is straight adventure. But Welles always considered the story to be horror and I have to admit it works well that way.
--"War of the Worlds (a.k.a. Invasion From Mars)" (Mercury Theater)
Mercury Theater's adaptation of H. G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS needs no introduction from me. It is one of the most famous radio broadcasts of all time, convincing many people that there was an actual invasion from Mars in progress. By the way, the script was written by Howard Koch who would later write CASABLANCA.
Okay, back to Evelyn to sum up:
Evelyn here, with a just reminder that for series such as "The Green Hornet", you must nominate specific episodes, not the series as a whole. For serials, however, whether on film or radio, you nominate the entire serial.
The Mainstream and Science Fiction: They Ignore Us and We Ignore Them (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 2010, an author died who was arguably a science fiction and fantasy writers. He wrote novels in which:
Yet he was never nominated for a Hugo, or a Nebula, or a World Fantasy Award. Maybe the novels weren't good enough, you suggest. Well, maybe, but the man did win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The author was Jose Saramago and the novels are, in order, THE STONE RAFT (1986), BLINDNESS (1995), THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS (1986), DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS (2005), CAIN (2009), SEEING (2004), and THE DOUBLE (2002). There are other science fiction and fantasy works by him as well.
(Actually, Doris Lessing also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and she was never nominated for any of those awards either.)
We science fiction fans complain that science fiction and fantasy are scorned by the literary establishment, yet when authors such as Saramago or Lessing come along, they go completely unnoticed in the SF community. Then it comes time to try to make science fiction "respectable," at which point we start listing all the mainstream science fiction writers we can think of. But our unwillingness to embrace them as part of the field when we are giving awards or choosing Guests of Honor (or even Memorial Guests of Honor) belies the feeling that they are not *really* science fiction writers. Even Readercon, whose Memorial Guests of Honor tend toward the more literary, have really gone outside the average fan's "comfort zone" a few times with Mark Twain, Jorge Luis Borges, and (possibly) Angela Carter. The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, perhaps the most academic of the conferences/conventions, chose Isaac Bashevis Singer, John Barth, and Tom Stoppard as their first three Guests of Honor in the early 1980s, and Doris Lessing in 1989, but since then has stayed fairly firmly within the field with familiar genre names.
Perhaps it's time to branch out.
P.S. After I wrote this article I went to Philcon and in a panel discussing bringing literary values from the mainstream into science fiction, I happened to mention Saramago. No one on the panel had heard of him. [-ecl]
ENDER'S GAME (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
The long awaited ENDER'S GAME movie has opened, and it is well worth the wait. Keeping in mind that I've read the original short story but not the novel-length treatment, I'm assured by my son (who has read virtually every "Ender" book!) this is about as good an adaptation of an SF novel as is possible. It certainly captures everything that is good in the short story version. Featuring a strong cast, including Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, ENDER'S GAME is dazzling to watch. Asa Butterfield creates an Ender Wiggin for the ages--it is hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with this iconic SF character.
Some may complain that the hard edges of the novel have been worn down for a younger movie audience, but nothing important is lost. There could be an R-rated ENDER'S GAME, but it would take nothing away from this magnificent achievement. The only fault I can find with the film is that once the final battle occurs, the last bit of the novel is rushed through overly fast. Things are clear, but somewhat unsatisfying.
Since this movie relies on a few key plot twists, I'm not going to talk much about the details of what happens. The movie more fully details the character of Ender as compared to the short story. The Earth military, represented by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), has decided to train genius child soldiers to protect against the Formics, an insect-like invading species. I'm told by my son that the movie cuts back a bit on the alien threat, which is apparently worse in the book than the film. This change was apparently done to heighten certain moral dilemmas that Ender faces.
Many writers have used the idea of developing an artificial psychopathic detachment as an aid in creating the perfect fighting machine, but in Ender this has been taken one step further. Ender is both completely detached and completely empathetic. In other words, he can identify deeply with an enemy, and once that understanding is complete, use the knowledge so gained to ruthlessly annihilate the foe. Aided by genius level tactical and strategic thinking, and honed by years of fighting with his much bigger and dangerously sociopathic brother, Ender becomes the perfect leader and the perfect weapon, able to win any fight, on any terrain, with any weapons, including psychological ones. As a thinly built teenager, Ender is often underestimated. However, he is utterly dangerous both as a general and hand-to-hand, as a number of opponents discover to their great regret.
In the hands of another actor, this background could become mere parody, but Asa Butterfield skillfully balances the various parts of Ender's mind, to excellent and highly convincing effect. Although ENDER'S GAME softens the character a bit to attract a younger audience, Ender Wiggin is a hero similar to both the Batman and the Joker in one body. Comparison could also be made to Buffy in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, who is both attached via her friends to the world, while being detached by her ruthless will to win at any cost and her deep attraction to the hunt. Much like Ender, Buffy grows from a child who has some skill at fighting to a general taking on the ultimate enemy.
ENDER'S GAME is the best SF film of the year, worth seeing at least twice. I enjoyed GRAVITY, but it is marred by a lack of scientific realism. Set much further into the future, ENDER'S GAME is nearly perfect in its treatment of the classic novel, which won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. I'm going out on a limb here and rating ENDER'S GAME a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. A lot of critics don't seem to "get" ENDER'S GAME, in some cases--falsely--believing it is based on a video game!!!
Rated PG-13, ENDER'S GAME has zero sex and minimal bad language. There are some intensely violent fights that may be too much for little kids, but this movie is fine for most tweens and up. There are adult-level moral issues here, but the movie can be enjoyed by a younger audience that may not fully appreciate all that is happening. [-dls]
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Chris Hemsworth returns as the hammer wielding Norse god Thor in Marvel's latest epic--THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Although the critics are clocking THOR: THE DARK WORLD in at 66%, a bit lower than the first THOR effort's 77% on the tomato-meter, to my thinking THOR: THE DARK WORLD is the better film. Lushly magnificent, TDW is a wonder to watch. From the glorious vistas of Asgard to the high- tech ships of the dark elves, the screen fairly pops with wonder. TDW is fun to watch, and at the same times feels like it has more plot and more character than are found in THOR.
In THOR the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) lacked heat and reality; THOR: THE DARK WORLD ups the temperature and the depth of the relationship. THOR: THE DARK WORLD operates both as a Thor/Loki battle and as a Thor/Loki buddy film. Tom Hiddleston brings Loki to an entertaining and convincing reality. The minor characters each get more screen time. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) gets to play the wise but a bit out of touch god- king, and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) does a bit of crazy comic relief. Sif and the Warriors Three each get their moment of heroic glory, and a bit more. It is worth noting that Sif (Jamie Alexander) suffered a serious spinal injury while on the set that kept her out of the filming for a month. This may account for her diminishing screen time as the movie nears its end.
I don't recall much of the Dark Elves of Svartalfaheimr in the "Thor" comics, but led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) they provide a formidable enemy for Thor. The Dark Elves are creatures from Norse mythology, as chronicled in the Prose Eddas, but as you might suspect the movie takes more than a few liberties with the old tales. The Dark Elf technology is beautiful and frightening at the same time. I especially like their spaceships, which evoke the best of 1960's SF illustration.
This is very much a tale of Asgard and cosmic menace, and although the final battle occurs on Earth, this is just a small part of the film. There are a few incongruities, including the fact that while in Asgard, the Dark Elves function as deadly fighters, but on Earth behave more like Star War's storm troopers, unable to shoot straight or even find the trigger on their weapons. I've read reviewers that found the movie confusing, especially toward the end as the battle shifts from world to world rapidly, but I found the scenes exhilarating and not at all hard to follow.
There are not one but two "after the credits" climax/preview sequences, the details of which I will leave for you to find out when you watch the movie. The final credits sequence is one of exceptional artistic success if you like impressionist art. Also watch for the very funny sequence where Loki pretends to be Captain America.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD is tons of fun for pretty much all ages, with no sex and a minor bit of bad language. There is a lot of comic book style action that might be too intense for very small children. I'm rating THOR: THE DARK WORLD a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale, but I'd make it a high +2 and the first THOR movie a low +2. This has been a great fall for SF films. If you haven't seen GRAVITY and ENDER'S GAME I highly recommend them both. THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a worthy addition. [-dls]
Speaking of liberties taken with the old tales see the article "8 Things Marvel Got Wrong About Thor and Norse Mythology": http://tinyurl.com/mtv-thor. [-mrl]
KISS OF THE DAMNED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Boy meets vampire-girl; they fall in love; they have sex; vampire's mischief-making sister tries to mess up this perfect love. Director Xan Cassavetes can make a pretty film, but she should not have trusted herself to write the story. The screenplay is cliched and simplistic melodrama that drags even if the images and some of the operatic music quotes are lush. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Director John Cassavetes and his wife Gena Rowlands made subtle and incisive films with well-developed characters and naturalistic backgrounds. In 2004, their daughter made a genuine film-lover's documentary, Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. Somehow her second feature film, KISS OF THE DAMNED, is just about the antithesis of the sort of film Xan Cassavetes's parents would have made. This is a vampire film with a lot of polish but almost no characters of any depth at all. Cassavetes gives us a glossy but empty film in the unkillable vampire film genre, but in fact for most of the film the vampirism is almost irrelevant. The film is just pretty people parading in a pretty environment telling a nearly empty or at least very rudimentary story.
Djuna (played by Josephine de La Baume) is a vampire who lives in a very fancy house where she likes watching old movies. She meets a handsome young man, Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), and while it is clear there is chemistry between them she knows it is not good for him to want a relationship with a vampire. ("I have a skin condition," she tells him.) She admits Paolo she is a vampire. Paolo does not believe her. ("Are you kidding me?") She tries to resist him, but their attraction is too strong. She wants to show Paolo what she is without danger to him and has herself chained in brief underwear to her bed to restrain herself from biting while she makes love to Paolo. In spite of her warnings he takes the chains off and willingly lets her bite making him a vampire. They then they enjoy all the pleasures of being vampires in love with both sex and neck- hunting.
Then Djuna's evil vampire sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) arrives at the family house and insists on being allowed to stay. It is clear that she wants to do as much mischief making as she can. Mimi goes about trying to cause trouble for Djuna's stylish patrician friends. They drink artificial blood, but Mimi goes on a killing spree to feed her blood thirst. She kills several people, including Paolo's agent, but while people disappear nobody ever seems to come to investigate. There is, of course, trouble but in the end it all comes to a happy if totally out-of-nowhere ending. This script is so unimaginative it could have come from a high- schooler's imagination.
Cassavetes uses lush photography and costuming to underscore the aristocratic style of the clique of vampires. Some scenes even have beautiful opera music to add to the lush feel. And there is occasional soft-core porn. Cassavetes is doing what he can for a script so simplistic that it could have been written by a high school girl.
Actually there was one arresting thought in the film. When Djuna transforms to a vampire with fangs and is making love to Paolo she warns him to keep his hands away from her mouth. She can make love to him but if he gets too close to her mouth it will kill on its own like the hands of Orlak. It is just a fleeting moment, but it is the only unusual idea in the script. It does not make the film worth watching. I rate KISS OF THE DAMNED a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1959438/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/kiss_of_the_damned_2012/
NO PLACE ON EARTH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In October 1942 A Jewish family in the Western Ukraine found an imperfect place to hide from the invading Nazis, a cave. Their story of 511 days hiding underground was forgotten for more than 65 years until an American stumbled onto unexplained artifacts in a cave and pieced together a harrowing history. Janet Tobias's documentary includes interviews with the actual survivors of the terrifying ordeal. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
There were eleven million people murdered in the Holocaust and far more counting everyone victimized. With that many people trying to find ways to survive, many approaches were attempted. In 2008 we saw the film DEFIANCE, the true story of an entire mobile community of Jews that lived in the forest and hid from the Germans. Janet Tobias's documentary NO PLACE ON EARTH tells of a similar incident of a group of Jews in Western Ukraine who, faced with near-certain death at the hands of the invading Nazis, chose to live in caves underground for as much as 511 days.
This story was uncovered by a Christian Eastern Orthodox New York investigator, Chris Nicola, whose hobby is exploring caves. He went to Ukraine to find his family roots and while there went cave exploring. In one cave he inexplicably found many man-made artifacts. Asking the locals who could have left the objects nobody could tell him how they came to be there until one villager told him that during the war there were Jews in caves. From there Nicola sought out survivors and reconstructed the story of the attempt at hiding. Some lived, some died at the hands of the Germans, and some died at the hands of the locals. But it makes for a fascinating story of human spirit and the effort to live.
This film tells the story of the Jews in the war hiding in the twisty dangerous caves and includes interviews and reenactments of the desperate families' stories of life and death, fear and heroism, as they attempted to save themselves by living under tons of rock. After his investigations it turns out the story of the Jews who survived in caves was told in an existing book by Esther Stermer, the original leader of the cave Jews. The book WE FIGHT TO SURVIVE was privately published in 1975, eighteen years before Chris Nicola's discoveries.
Actual survivors of the caves tell the story of their past. This area had a large Jewish population before the war. When it looked like the war was coming, one family arranged to leave by boat only to have the plans destroyed when the war broke out and the boat was no longer available. Jews who remained in the area were sent to death camps or ghettos, which would lead to the same end. The only place they could think to hide was the Verteba Cave, in the Bilche Zlota Valley. There were desperate attempts to get enough food and water to stay alive. Some minimal water could be obtained from the cave dripping, but food had to be obtained on nighttime missions to obtain grain from the locals at constant great risk. Eventually, through betrayal or bad luck, the Germans found and raided the cave. One advantage of a cave is that it provides some good hiding places so not all the Jews were caught. Of those who were captured, some could escape and some died. Five families moved to what proved to be a safer cavern, the Priest's Grotto Cave.
This is director and co-writer Janet Tobias's first feature film, and there are some technical problems with the film. One difficulty with the film is that some of the accents make it difficult to understand what is being said. The story is gripping and one I have not heard before. The stories of the caves are compelling. One can look into their eyes of people who lived through the ordeal and still see the haunted pain of having lived for many months with at best rare glimpses of the sun. This is a nearly forgotten chapter of Holocaust history brought back to life by this documentary. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2343266/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/no_place_on_earth/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The book discussion group chose THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker (ISBN 978-0-688-12141-9) for this month, and I'll include my notes for each chapter.
"An Instinct to Acquire an Art": Language is an instinct.
"Chatterboxes": All tribes have languages. Language--or at least grammar--is innate, not just learned from parents and others. (Children are able to interpret and use more complicated sentences than their parents speak to them. Children learning ASL do not make the grammatical mistakes that their parents--who learned it as adults--do.)
"Mentalese": Sapir-Whorf is wrong, mostly because we do not think in a language, but in thoughts that we convert into language. Non- human apes seem to understand familial relationships without having a language to express them in.
"How Language Works": Grammar, syntax, and deep structures.
"Words, Words, Words": How we build new words from old, or "I dictionaried that word, but they didn't verb it." And why you say "they ringed the city with artillery" rather than "they rang the city with artillery."
"The Sounds of Silence": Speech perception works as much on the persistence of hearing as motion perception does on the persistence of vision--although perhaps it is really the mirror-image, and how we manage to divide what we hear into words and why a nation that could put a man on the moon could not build a computer that could take dictation--at least not twenty years ago.
"Talking Heads": Why the difficulty in creating a program to parse sentences is just one reason computers cannot pass the Turing Test.
"The Tower of Babel": There are multiple languages because of learning, innovation, and migration.
"Baby Born Talking--Describes Heaven": Well, no he wasn't. The rest of the chapter is a descrtion/chronology of how children learn a language.
"Language Organs and Grammar Genes": A lot of details about how the brain processes language, which I gave up on after a few pages.
"The Big Bang": Only humans have language, and how it might have evolved. Again, I'll note that the statement "only humans have language" is true only because the speaker has defined language such that any other possible example is ruled out. For example, Hockett's "13 Design Features of Language" starts with the use of a "Vocal-Auditory Channel". If strictly enforced, this would rule out American Sign Language as a language, yet I suspect few people would agree with this. (The same applies to the second item, "Broadcast Transmission and Directional Reception", and indeed many of the others as well.) For that matter, how do we know that dolphins or whales do not have a language that we just do not recognize?
"The Language Mavens": Why Pinker does not believe in prescriptive grammar. Why Pinker *really*, *really*, *really* does not believe in prescriptive grammar. ("There is no English Language Academy, and this is just as well; the purpose of the Academie Francaise is to amuse journalists from other countries with bitterly argued decisions that the French gaily ignore.") He debunks (more or less, depending on your perspective) nine myths of grammar and then attacks the various sorts of mavens. The only ones he has any use for for what he calls the sages, among whom he includes Theodore Bernstein and William Safire, but then spends a dozen pages complaining about Safire.
"Mind Design": More technical detail that failed to engage me.
In the chapter on mavens, by the way, Pinker takes a shot at philatelists when he writes, "For me, wordwatching for its own sake has all the intellectual excitement of stamp collecting, with the added twist that an undetermined number of your stamps are counterfeit."
And speaking of word-watching, THE ISLANDERS by Christopher Priest (ISBN 978-0-575-08864-1) uses a lot of words that Priest made up (e.g., havenic, shelterate, anti-importunation), and a lot more that you *think* he made up (e.g., erotomane), as well as words usually found only in spoken language (e.g., simoleon). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I am a part of everything that I have read. --John KieranTweet
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