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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/20/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 25, Whole Number 1785
Table of Contents
Letters of Comment (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Those of you interested in metrics might want to know that we have a mailing list of 205 names, and this year had letters of comment from 42 people, or 20%. This is down from my last calculation (from I don't know when) of about 25%, but still way ahead of what most fanzines get. Apparently 5% is considered a good rate.
Then again, we hold ourselves to a higher standard, don't we? [-ecl]
Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards:
A special award was also given to the late Roger Ebert, "whose decades of work in criticism helped to popularize serious film appreciation to a wider audience, and whose tireless persistence in the face of cancer was as inspiring as any of the films he championed."
Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society ( http://www.ofcs.org) is the largest and oldest Internet-based film journalism organization. Over 250 members voted in this year's awards.
[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]
Dollar Coins (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In dollar coins, how come we talk about "Susies" and Sackies", but not "Ikies", "Georgies", or "Johnnies" (or "Jimmies", or "Andys", or ... well, you get the idea)? [-ecl]
[If you are discussing U.S. bills and coins and say "dollar bill" everybody knows what kind you have, because there is only one basic dollar bill. If you say "dollar coin" a lot of people do not even know there is such a thing. If you want to distinguish between two very different dollar coins you don't want to have to say "Susan B. Anthony coin" (seven syllables) or "Sacagawea coin" (six syllables) or just abbreviate to "Susies" and "Sackies." -mrl]
You Cannot Trust Superheroes (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The new thing in comic book movies is not to have just one but multiple superheroes in a film as if just one is not super enough. It must be tough putting these superheroes in unmatched teams. You know the sort of thing: The Spirit is willing but the Flash is weak. [-mrl]
The Documentary Comes into Its Own (comments by Mark R. Leeper:
Every year I try to see as many as I can of the major films of the year. I have to do that especially because I am a member of a film critic society and I have to vote on awards. I get a chance to see a lot of films I would not have seen otherwise. If a distributor thinks his film might be award-worthy, frequently I get to see a screener copy. For a long time there were no documentaries. But that was already changing. (Admittedly that is a biased sample, but it does show me what films are intended to be winners.) A few years ago (2008) there were two documentaries along with the usual narrative films. There was I.O.U.S.A and MAN ON A WIRE. It seemed an anomaly. Generally there were only about one or two. But the anomaly continued the following year. And it continues year by year.
I now realize I was seeing what was an unexpected trend in the films that are being made. This year the proportion of films I have to see that are documentaries is about one-third, higher than last year and last year it was more than the previous year. So why is there so much growth in documentary films? Why should the proportion of documentaries be increasing? After all, documentary films are not all that profitable and few will ever make it to local theater screens.
The answer is probably in the digital revolution. When it came, people started carrying around these versatile electronic devices and could use them as video cameras. Schools started to show students how they could take these short snatches of what they were filming and put them together into coherent longer works. These usually short films gave the young filmmakers a voice they never had before. In many schools now you do not learn how to write a term paper any more, but you can learn how to shoot and edit a film. Students who are documenting their lives in video are essentially already making documentaries and schools are training students to make longer and better composed films.
Many of these students went on to want to make documentaries professionally. The minimal equipment investment they need to make a documentary film with some polish is getting to be less and less. Most do not need special effects. Animation need not be used. The film can be edited on a PC. On the whole, making a documentary is a low-expense-low-profit proposition. For a lot of the filmmakers the low-profit part is not really so negative feature. Many of these people are trying to get a point across and not necessarily to get rich doing it.
So while some people with messages are still writing articles, others find that a more engaging medium and more cogent medium is film, and it is not too much more expensive. So more and more are being made from small personal recollections to large polished feature length documentaries. And the competition is driving up the quality.
At one time it was true that schools in the United States were geared to teach students essay writing style. It was different in Britain, the country of Shakespeare. Students there were taught to write dialog leading to scenes leading to plays. There was good reason why British drama was respected worldwide. That is all still true, but I expect that the documentary film is going to be more and more the people's medium as the technology makes it easier and less expensive. The digital revolution has brought the documentary film into its own. [-mrl]
CALIBAN'S WAR by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2012, Orbit, 611pp, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-12906-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
There's been a lot of talk on the blogs and in the podcasts and where ever else people talk about science fiction about pushing the boundaries of the field, transforming the field into, well, something else. There's a feeling that the field is stagnating, and it must change before it becomes irrelevant.
That's all well and good, I suppose. After all, science fiction is all about change--changing technology, changing society, changing civilization. But the one thing that should not change about the field is the storytelling aspect. The field was born, grew up, and is based on terrific storytelling. I've ranted a bit about this before--you know, the whole form over substance topic. Let's write pretty, flowery prose that can and often is difficult to read and doesn't add to the story, but certainly adds to the "literary" quality of the piece in question.
Well, CALIBAN'S WAR is not like that. CALIBAN'S WAR is a throwback to the days of adventure, intrigue, romance, aliens, warships, and all that cool stuff we used to read when we were kids back in the day (can anyone remember that far back?). In fact, the only modern movement that the second installment in the Expanse series seems to follow is the idea that we're not going to make it out of the Solar System anytime soon, so we might as well tell terrific stories set there. And like its predecessor, it succeeds marvelously.
The story starts on Ganymede. Below the surface, a child is abducted. On the surface, there is something of an uneasy peace between the forces of Mars and those of the United Nations. Shooting breaks out. Of course, the fear is that war is starting, and in a sense it is--but not between those two factions. No, there's a big, ugly humanoid monster wreaking havoc, and a Bobbie, a Martian Marine, see her whole platoon gunned down around her. The monster, oddly enough, lets her live.
And so it begins. Our friend from LEVIATHAN WAKES, James Holden, and his crew come to Ganymede to investigate, and end up agreeing to help the father of the abducted girl find her. But of course, things are never that simple, are they? Holden and his crew get involved in a struggle to prevent war between Earth and the Martians. Chrisjen Avasarala is the high-ranking diplomat from Earth who is trying to keep things together, and she hires Bobbie to work for her. Yes, Avasarala hired a soldier from the opposite side of the conflict to help her prevent the war. And, of course, before it's all over, Holden and the gang get involved, and hey-- we're all in this together.
About that monster. If you remember from LEVIATHAN WAKES, the alien protomolecule ended up on Venus, and it seems that the protomolecule is taking over and transforming the planet, and these monsters have something to do with the protomolecule. Yeah, it's a lot more complicated than that, but I do want you to go read the book, you know.
And lest you think that like our favorite books from long ago, the characters are wooden and uninteresting, nothing could be further from the truth. I don't want to spoil too much of this, so I'll just say that I really enjoyed the character interactions. And Avasarala reminds me just a bit of Paula Myo from Peter F. Hamilton's work.
This is truly a terrific novel, and I think it was better than LEVIATHAN'S WAKE. I do look forward to reading ABADDON'S GATE, the third novel in the sequence. [-jak]
GO FOR SISTERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: John Sayles wrote and directed this crime drama set around the California-Mexico border. Two women and a disgraced cop look for a missing boy, the son of one of the women. The search will take them across the border into places where drug gangs rule. The Mexican border was the location of one of Sayles' very best films, LONE STAR (1996). While this film is not up to LONE STAR, it is an involving if low-key thriller that uses the setting with its drug gangs and illegal emigration scams as palpably as a character. But it is the unusual relationship of the two black women that takes center stage. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Bernice and Fontayne (played by LisaGay Hamilton and Yolanda Ross) were friends in high school before a boyfriend came between them. Now it is many years later. Fontayne has had run-ins with the law, went to jail, and is now out of prison on parole. Her parole officer is Bernice and in spite of their former friendship she is not letting Fontayne get away with anything. Bernice has little use for Fontayne's breaking of the rules, but Bernice herself is ending a relationship with a man who is returning to his wife. Then Bernice's son disappears and may have been involved in a local murder. With a story structure slightly echoing THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Bernice assembles a small team that will go south. She gets Fontayne and Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos). Freddy was once a good cop but disgraced for not reporting on his best friend for corruption. The three go into Mexico around Tijuana to search out Bernice's son.
This sounds like it could be a rather standard action crime film, and in, a way it is. But that is not all it is. As the title implies this film is about sisters. Bernice and Fontayne are sisters, not biologically, but there develops a sister-like bond between them. They had it once before the law came between them. Now if they are going to succeed in their efforts they have to depend on each other. They have to act as one. Once in Mexico Olmos goes in one direction with the investigation and the women go in another.
Sayles usually has a political message behind his films. Here (in his eighteenth film overall) if he is making a point he is being too subtle for me. I guess we do not see a whole bunch of buddy films where the buddies are two African-American women. Perhaps he is saying that even though Bernice and Fontayne have separated and neither cares for what the other has become, they are still more similar than they are different, and they are still sisters under the skin.
Familiar faces in the film include in small roles Isaiah Washington and Hector Elizondo.
Sayles's picture of the drug trade near the border has a feel of authenticity. Over the border there are some tough hombres, but that is accurate. There are several different cultures colliding here and one of the most unexpected is the smuggling of Chinese into the United States.
In this film the crime story is intriguing, but the heart of story is one of two former friends patching their differences and working together so they could "go for sisters." It is not one of Sayles' more major films, but it has its rewards. I rate GO FOR SISTERS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2247432/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/go_for_sisters_2013/
SAVING MR. BANKS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Not nearly as enchanting as people are expecting, this is the story of a battle of wills between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and P. L. Travers, the author of the book MARY POPPINS. Travers oversees the writing of the script, vetoing nearly everything suggested. The viewer should expect to see long stretches of Travers being unpleasant. Meanwhile Disney is trying his every strategy, honest or not, to try to get the film made. Meanwhile we get Travers fleshed out by seeing flashbacks of her unpleasant youth in Australia. John Lee Hancock directs a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. SAVING MR. BANKS works better if the viewer has a reverence for the film MARY POPPINS. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Walt Disney and his studio frequently adapted popular children's stories, bringing them to the screen. And when they did, they made the story all their own by changing whatever they wanted to change. Frequently the resulting film versions bore little resemblance to the original source. If the story was a fairy tale from folklore, there was nobody who could be said to own the story so nobody could tell Disney not to adapt it.
One exception was when Disney made MARY POPPINS. Disney's own children lobbied him to adapt this one as one of their favorite books. There was however a problem. The book MARY POPPINS was had a genuine living author, P. L. Travers. Travers was a woman of strong will and the book was in many ways a commentary on her own life. Emotionally it was a very personal book to her and legally it was one on which she still owned the rights. She had no intention of ever letting Disney getting his revisionist hands on her book. Only one thing could make her change her mind, money. Travers needed money. In SAVING MR. BANKS, Disney (played by Tom Hanks) offers Travers (Emma Thompson) approval on the film and then tries to win her over with the magic of the Disney style, but it is absolutely the wrong approach to win over the hardnosed, curmudgeonly woman. So Disney must try new strategies to persuade Travers to allow the film to be made.
Those who were charmed by the film MARY POPPINS and who want to see a "making of" sort of drama may find this story not so enchanting. This is a battle of wits between two willful people, and it is in no way whimsical. Children may find the film boring or actually unpleasant. The story flashes back and forth between Travers having angry sessions with the writers of the script and scenes from Travers' unpleasant youth in Australia with a father (Colin Farrell) whom she loves but who increasingly drinks and destroys his health.
Taking a hand in the creation of the film of MARY POPPINS is Disney himself. He finds strategies to put, for example, animated penguins into the film after Travers has said in no uncertain terms that there is to be no animation at all in the film. Travers objects to the casting of Dick Van Dyke, but the filmmakers bring in the comic actor anyway.
On the surface Disney is affable while Travers is prickly, rude, and cynical, but underneath they are very similar and both very inflexible. The viewer sees these confrontations with no option to be left out of the conflict. The film suffers from a dearth of likable characters so one is added. Travers is given a car and chauffeur. Ralph the driver (Paul Giamatti) brings a quiet and sensitive wisdom to his role. He is a stark contrast to the character I saw him play just hours before in 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Giamatti is quietly rising to be one of our most accomplished actors.
Most of John Schwartzman's cinematography is decidedly more engaging in the Australia scenes than the Hollywood ones just because Australia is a more interesting locale. However, having action occur around bed sheets hanging to dry is becoming a cinematic cliche.
Last year's HITCHCOCK was also about the making of a film, in that case PSYCHO. It covered a more interesting range of production problems and hence was over all of more interest. This film is mostly about getting Travers to give her permission for the adaptation to be made. And while it is left ambiguous, the real P. L. Travers was never at all happy with the film version of her book. But I suppose at Disney Studios there is a sort of reverence for the film MARY POPPINS so making that film seems to them a laudable goal. One can easily come away from this film feeling more wearied at the than elated that MARY POPPINS was made. I rate SAVING MR. BANKS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. I recommend sitting through the end credits to hear an actual tape of a script consultation with Travers.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2140373/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/saving_mr_banks_2013/
Shakespeare and the Ages of English (letters of comment by Kip Williams and David Goldfarb):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the various ages (and stages) of English in the 12/13/13 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Original spelling of Shaxpur is an interest of mine. I found that the Oxford complete volume from a decade or two back had a second volume with original spellings of everything shortly before finding out that this book goes for big bucks online--bucks so big that $35 for something nearly as good was a no-brainer. That something is the Applause First Folio, a modern edition that keeps the spelling and adds copious notes and glosses, and puts it all in modern type. It's so serious that it has three built-in bookmarks for my use, which matters because some of the notes are in front, and some are in back. Long story, I guess. I'm told that there are some scholarly idiosyncrasies about the book that wouldn't likely bother someone at my lowly level of enjoyment. Being based on the first folio, it's not the complete works, but it's a lovely thing to browse in.
Not too long after I got that, the book sale at my local library produced a facsimile FF that I happily paid a dollar or fifty cents for, I forget which, and applied some Elmer's Glue-All to the slightly damaged binding which has been fine ever since. It's at a bit less than full size, and the type is odd to modern eyes (and damaged in ways that the Applause edition has corrected and explained in detail). It's possible, with a little practice, to read it right through, for enjoyment.
The first folio ... sorry, First Folio ... itself is an interesting enough topic to sustain a book by Paul Collins, starting with its unlikely genesis, touching on subsequent folios, and building as the book becomes an object of veneration and fandom, and talking about where the existing copies are now, and who has the most. Amazon lets you read a sample of the book, after which you might find it at a library (Interlibrary Loan is your friend). I'm happy enough to have the facsimile and the Applause edition.
There's another source, though: the Internet is for Shakespeare! There are facsimile editions you can page through online, and texts you can download or individual plays (FF, Good Quartos, and Bad Quartos, as well as complete editions), all in the original spelling. Why does this matter? As Collins explains, there have been times when some shades of meaning were sacrificed to the changes of vocabulary over the years. I never bought his book and can't recite these, but it was enough to prompt me to find the texts and put them in my ebook library, along with all the doubtful and spurious Shax plays I could download, just because. Oxford and the Folger Library seem to have facsimiles. University of Victoria has a set in text: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Annex/DraftTxt/, and a voice in my head says I got mine from a university in Virginia. Maybe the University OF Virginia. I still read the incredibly compact one-volume Oxford complete that I picked up in 1971 from time to time, but I like feeling closer to the author when I read with the seemingly random u/v, i/j, and f/s switches (not truly random, but it's complicated some by the typesetters, who did things for reasons of their own, including running out of a letter and human error). [-kw]
And David Goldfarb writes:
I've done the "Beowulf"-"Canterbury Tales"-Shakespeare comparison for quite a few people, in person. Except instead of JULIUS CAESAR I usually do the opening line of RICHARD III: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York." [-dg]
You're right; RICHARD III is probably a better choice. [-ecl]
FROZEN (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's review of FROZEN in the 12/13/13 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
Wish I could remember where I read this, but back in the 1950s or so there was a plan to make a Hans Christian Andersen biopic (though I'm sure they didn't call them that back then). There was some sort of deal where there'd be a live-action film with animated segments of the HCA stories, and Disney was engaged to do the animated clips. The story idea fell apart, and the famous live- action version with Danny Kaye was made ... but as part of the deal the Disney folks had the rights to do animated versions of HCA tales. Supposedly THE LITTLE MERMAID and now FROZEN happened because they were left over from that deal. [-gwr]
Given that Andersen has been dead since 1875, all of his stories (except possibly the one discovered in a suitcase in 2012) are in the public domain, even by the ridiculously long standards of the United States. [-ecl]
Jewish Food (letters of comment by Jette Goldie, Paul Dormer, Andy Leighton, Robert Shull, Peter Trei, and Alan Woodford):
In response to Paul Dormer's comments on tongue in the 12/13/13 issue of the MT VOID, Jette Goldie writes:
[Paul wrote, "I still buy [tongue] occasionally from my local supermarket."]
Not as commonly found in supermarkets these days--a lot of younger folk go "eww" when offered a tongue sandwich. [-jg]
Yeah, had a look in Tesco this week and couldn't get it, at least on the pre-packed cooked meat counter. Forgot to check the deli counter. [-pd]
Andy Leighton says:
Still on the deli counter at the local supermarkets I shop at. Although you cannot buy the raw tongue for cooking yourself. Not that I have ever wanted to--like my mum I always get pressed ox tongue from the deli counter. [-al]
And Robert Shull also replies to Paul's response:
Just the opposite here (Texas). I've seen it for sale raw in the meat department at lots of supermarkets but I don't recall ever seeing it for sale cooked. It's not, IMHO, one of the more pleasant cuts of meat to look at in raw form, being right up there with brains in the "ick" factor. [-rks]
I once cooked a dish with lambs' tongues. Too fiddly--I'll stick to getting my cooked tongue from the butcher--but not the supermarket meat counter :-)
There are butcher's shops in Guildford, but they are in out of the way places where I'd have to make a special trip. There are none in the town centre. Tesco is just across the road.
Peter Trei asks:
Do they carry lark's tongues? It's been a very long time since anyone made Lark's Tongues in Aspic. [-pt]
Alan Woodford says:
True, but mine are reasonably well-preserved... [-aw]
Many of these people are in the UK, so YMMV on the availability of tongue. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE INTERNATIONAL BANK OF BOB: CONNECTING OUR WORLDS ONE $25 KIVA LOAN AT A TIME by Bob Harris (ISBN 978-0-8027-7751-5) is about Bob's experiences with Kiva. Kiva is perhaps the best-known of the non-profits that work with micro-finance agencies to "provide small loans to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services." Mark wrote a more complete--and highly entertaining, in my opinion--description at Kiva in the 02/15/08 issue of the MT VOID, available at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/2008/VOID0215.htm#kiva.
Bob was a travel writer writing about luxury hotels when he started noticing the disparity between those and the way the other end of the spectrum lived. So he decided to try to improve the way the poorest people lived, which eventually led him to join Kiva. And then he came up with the idea of traveling around the world to meet the people he had been lending money to. (Note: He did not tell the recipients he was one of their lenders.)
Maybe it was his choice of destinations, but for many of them-- for example, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia--the underlying question in Bob's mind for the people he talked to in these war-ravaged areas was, "How are you not completely insane?" And after a while, you notice that you are not hearing from Bob any stories of failures, though it is not surprising that the local offices want to emphasize successes. The result may be a bit overly optimistic, though in fact the repayment statistics for Kiva loans seem to indicate that it is not wildly deceptive.
Harris has a very readable style, and the book is often more travelogue than micro-finance sermon (though there are a lot of details about how Kiva works), but by the end, you may well find yourself wanting to get involved in lending money through them. If so, go to http://www.kiva.org/invitedto/worldcon/by/markleeper. Signing up here will automatically put you on the "Worldcon" team, and because you are responding to our invitation, some donor contributes enough for us to make a free loan. (Bob explains teams in his book, but they're basically a group of people with something in common who lend through Kiva, sort of like your local knitting group might get together to donate food for a local food bank.) Originally set up as a team for members of the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention, the Worldcon team is now more for science fiction fans in general.
SELECTED SHORTS AND OTHER METHODS OF TIME TRAVEL by David Goodberg (ISBN 978-0-9827041-0-3) is a collection of mostly unrelated stories, though the same time travel corporations show up in multiple stories, and there are a couple of stories that connect to others. These are definitely "idea stories," with minimal characterization. As such, they are entertaining, but not exactly cutting-edge literary fiction. They seem reminiscent of Frederic Brown, or possibly some of the "White Hart" tales of Arthur C. Clarke.
And between every pair of stories, there are brief quotes ("I wouldn't mind snow if it were warm."), essays, or flash fiction stories, none longer than a single page. It makes for an uncommon structure, to say the least. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Three things it is best to avoid: a strange dog, a flood, and a man who thinks he is wise. --Welsh ProverbTweet
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