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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/27/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 26, Whole Number 1786
Table of Contents
Layout (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As noted in the 10/26/12 issue of the MT VOID, I have been told that to be a true fanzine, one must have illustrations and layout. Since we would not want to accidentally disqualify ourselves as a fanzine, here's a Lovecraftian illustration found on alt.horror.cthulhu:
__ (oO) /||\
I guess the MT VOID is set for 2013 now. [-ecl]
Chicon 7 (convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
My Chicon 7 con report (for the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention) is finally done, and available at:
Who Invented the Computer Virus?:
John Brunner is often given the credit, but it was apparently none other than science fiction author (and MT VOID contributor) Gregory Benford. [-ecl]
In a comment ( http://tinyurl.com/void-benford-virus) on tor.com, Benford writes:
I invented the first virus and the term, in 1969, at Livermore Lab on DARPAnet. I called it VIRUS and it simply showed up as a tag on all future emails sent from an infected machine. I sent it to show the DARPA people that viruses were easy to do and a future hazard. They ignored me. So I wrote a story depicting the future of viruses and published it in 1970.
This fact wiki has yet to fathom, though it's well documented: see the story and history at http://www.gregorybenford.com/extra/the-scarred-man-returns/.
I told John Brunner this in 1969 while in London; that's the origin of his "worm" and his knowledge of the net; he had never heard of DARPA and thought it unsettling that such a promising idea came from the Dept. of Defense.
I miss John's forward-looking vision in sf a lot! [-gb]
What Is a Novella?:
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY discusses this, with prominent mention of the Hugo and Nebula awards in http://tinyurl.com/void-novella.
Telemarketing Robots--Shades of Philip K. Dick:
The Most Amazing Science Images of 2013:
Awesome Science Fiction Postage Stamps:
Positive Comments on Science Fiction in the Mainstream Media:
In "The Economist"'s article "The fiction of Ted Chiang: Why you should read his stories", they don't try to say Chiang's stories are not science fiction. Instead they conclude with, "The best science fiction inspires awe for the natural properties of the universe; it renders the fundamentals of science poignant and affecting. Mr Chiang's writing manages all of this. He deserves to be more widely read."
And in "The New Yorker" we have an article about Kim Stanley Robinson titled "Our Greatest Political Novelist?" which says, "In an era filled with complacent dystopias and escapist apocalypses, Robinson is one of our best, bravest, most moral, and most hopeful storytellers."
Historic... Not (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was seeing a documentary at the Clinton Library with the President signing some important paper. He was saying, "This is a historic day." It occurs to me that is almost always consigning the memory of that day to oblivion. If it does not involve a death or going to war then even the person claiming the day is historic will forget the exact date within three months. [-mrl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
January 2: OSCAR, Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM January 9: MOON (film) and ROGUE MOON by Algis Budrys (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film January 23, 2014: THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM February 27: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM March 27: DIMENSION OF MIRACLES by Robert Sheckley, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM April 24: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 22: BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM June 26: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 24: THE DEMOLISHED MAN by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 28: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 25: IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 23: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 18: ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 18: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Northern New Jersey events are listed at:
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for January (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
January makes it a new year on Turner Classic Movies, and it is time for my monthly summary of my picks for what to look for on Turner Classic Movies. In January TCM does not seem to have a lot that is particularly rare and unusual. Most of the films have played before on TCM. For me to make recommendations for films people might want to check out on TCM January is not the most promising month. Some of the films I will point to are ones that any film buff should have already seen but many people have not yet. All times listed are Eastern Time.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) is a classic. It was Sidney Lumet's first feature film and it was a doozie. I have seen it shown in diversity meetings, in rhetoric classes, and in courses for how to be persuasive. It is a classic jury room drama. If you haven't seen it, you really should. That said I have to admit that the film (based on a TV play) is decidedly contrived. Reginald Rose who wrote the original story only had to come up with four or so discreditable pieces of testimony. The chances that they would all occur in the same trial are small. And I don't know if public defenders are that sloppy. Still this is a really well written film. You can see the original live TV version from 1954 on YouTube. But while I would say the TV play is very good, Lumet turned it into a much better film. [Thursday, January 16, 2:30 AM]
For that matter the film version is also on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RelOJfFIyp8
Speaking of films that were inspired by television plays, there is also CHARLY (1968). Cliff Robertson was a familiar face on television drama, and not just for the title role in the series "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers." He did a terrific star turn in the "Playhouse 90" play "The Days of Wine and Roses." When that play was being adapted to a feature film he had every expectation that he would again be cast in the main role. Sadly, no, that role went instead to Jack Lemmon, usually thought at that time as being just a comic actor. Robertson had done another really impressive acting job in the "The United States Steel Hour" television play "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon" (based on the science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes). He did not want to risk that that would be made into a film with anyone else taking the main role he created. He bought the rights to the story so it could not be adapted to film without him playing Charly Gordon. The strategy paid off. The film was made, and Robertson got the role of Charly. It earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. This is another film you really have to see if you have not. It is not really rare, but I am frequently surprised how it is not well-remembered. Charly Gordon is mentally retarded and he goes around happily misunderstanding the world around him. But he has a real fire in his belly to learn more. He is given a brain operation intended to correct the malfunction and increase his intelligence. Slowly but surely his intelligence increases from retarded to genius level and his view of the world changes as his IQ increases. The film has that Oscar winning performance from Robertson, and Clair Bloom has never been more beautiful than she is here. [Saturday, February 1, 3:45 PM--TCM still lists this as a January film.]
Georges Melies made the first science fiction film of the first men going from the earth to the moon. Robert Altman made the last. In spite of the fact that COUNTDOWN (1968) was directed by Altman, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and in spite of the fact that it is undeniably science fiction, very few people know of this film and far fewer have seen it. Probably it would be much better known if it had been made the year before. COUNTDOWN is based on the novel THE PILGRIM PROJECT by Hank Searls. Searls wrote scientific technical fiction like Michael Crichton did later. The story here can really said to have been "ripped from the headlines." It is a fiction story of how NASA puts the first man on the moon. COUNTDOWN was released just seventeen months before NASA landed the first two men on the moon. Altman was at the beginning of his career and his easy-going style seemed a little limp to the critics. Most people waited for the real thing to happen rather than see a fiction story about how it might happen. If you can put yourself in a 1968 mindset, there is some excitement here. James Caan and Robert Duvall (both of THE GODFATHER) play astronauts competing to be the first man on the moon. [Saturday, January 4, 2:15 AM]
Best film of the month probably is 12 ANGRY MEN, but if you have not seen Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN (1949), there is a real hole in your film experience. The setting is shortly after WWII in a very much demolished Vienna. It is part murder mystery and part thriller and it features one of the great speeches from cinema. Joseph Cotton and Trevor Howard star. Look for Orson Welles in a small but pivotal role. [Monday, January 6, 9:30 PM]
ASCENDANT SUN by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2000, Blackstone Audio 2004, 11 hours 51 minutes, narrated by Anna Fields) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
ASCENDANT SUN is basically part two of the Kelric story, which started in THE LAST HAWK. In that story, Kelric was stranded on the planet Coba for nearly twenty years, imprisoned by the matriarchal ruling class of the planet, and valued for his expertise in the dice game of Quis. ASCENDANT SUN picks up as Kelric is returning to Skolian space, with basically the clothes on his back and not much else of value. The story follows Kelric as he attempts to return to his family in a time of chaos in the aftermath of the Radiance War.
Needless to say, things have changed during Kelric's stay on Coba. The web is dead, and so is a good portion of the Skolian ruling family. Allieds, Skolians, and Traders walk the same streets. There doesn't appear to be much central government. And since he's been declared dead--after all, if you were gone 18+ years without a word, most people would think you were dead, wouldn't they?--nobody recognizes him. Since he is unsure of the situation and even how to navigate it, Kelric strives to keep his identity a secret as he tries to make his way back home and to his family--or what is left of it.
Kelric finds himself facing and having to overcome ever-increasingly difficult obstacles to get where he wants to be. Since he started with nothing, he offers his services as a weapons officer on a ship that is going into Trader space on a peaceful mission. It turns out not to be too peaceful, and he is captured and sold into slavery as a Provider, a pleasure slave for an Aristo. He continues to escape from one situation and land in the next, becoming increasingly weak from illness and damage to his internal biomech systems. He can trust no one, befriend no one, until he meets a woman who helps him through his troubles and becomes his lover in the process.
ASCENDANT SUN can either be looked at as a science fiction story with elements of romance, or a romance with a whole bunch of elements of science fiction. I do believe that either view is valid, and there are enough elemants of either genre in the story to make fans of either happy, and at the same time drive fans of the other mad. Personally, I could have had the romance toned down a bit, but hey, that's me. I still enjoyed this novel quite a bit. I feel that Asaro makes us feel for Kelric, as of course she is trying to do, but at the same time I think there is some sympathy for the Aristos as well. That last was a surprise to me, and I'm glad it was an element of the story.
Anna Fields once again does a serviceable job of narrating the story and keeping up with the many and varied voices she needs to handle in this book. Now that she's settled into the role of narrator for the Skolian saga, I feel comfortable listening to her - she seems to fit the story well enough. Again, another good outing from Catherine Asaro.
I'm currently doing something I haven't done in a very long time--I'm reading two books simultaneously. I'm guessing a lot of you do that, but it's something I haven't done since I was a teenager. Hopefully sometime soon, then, you'll see reviews of THE YEAR'S BEST SF 18 edited by David G. Hartwell, and the climax of the Thomas Covenant series, THE LAST DARK, by Stephen R. Donaldson. Until then. [-jak]
NEBRASKA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Alexander Payne gives us a sad, low-key comedy/drama filmed in black and white. David already knew his father Woody (Bruce Dern) was moving into old-age dementia, but now Woody has gotten a publisher's ad claiming he has won a million dollars and he is convinced he can claim the money if he can present the ad in Lincoln, Nebraska. David agrees to have one last adventure with his father, taking Woody from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, on a fool's errand that he knows can only end in disappointment. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Woody Grant of Billings, Montana (played by Bruce Dern), has had a meaningless life passing time to no special end. Old age has brought dementia. With some charity people say he is just "confused" and angry with everyone around him. His run-ins with his wife and his son are authentic and gently humorous. And now a publisher's ad he got in the mail starts out claiming he has won a million dollars if ... and Woody is convinced that finally he has struck it rich and made good.
Woody has long since alienated his son David (Will Forte). The elderly man has been an alcoholic for decades and David has never had respect for his father. After David fails to convince his father that the publisher's ad is worthless he agrees to have one last attempt to share something meaningful with Woody. He will drive his father to Lincoln, Nebraska, and while there stop in Hawthorne, the small Nebraska town where Woody grew up.
On the way they stop in nearly every bar, and eventually also in Hawthorne. There he meets again Woody's old partner Ed (a portly Stacy Keach) who has unfinished business with Woody. This is a story of old people living with little but television and their memories of the past. And the claimed memories largely contradict each other. The major themes are aging, memory, and a desperate father-son relationship near its inevitable end.
Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS, THE DESCENDANTS) directs a screenplay written by Bob Nelson. Payne had a chance to direct NEBRASKA immediately after directing SIDEWAYS, but was reluctant to do a second road trip movie so soon. Cinematography is by Phedon Papamichael who filmed in beautiful black-and-white. He captures skies thick with clouds over boundless empty spaces of land and small towns with streets as wide as superhighways. There is a very strong regional feel to the area and the people.
Bruce Dern has made a career of playing disturbed, angry men. It is interesting that toward the end of his career he has what may be his most memorable role and that he was able to achieve it playing an older version of the type of part he built his career on. Most of the characters give a real feel of being simple, rural TV-watchers, who welcome boredom and repetition like a close friend. Holding her own against Dern is June Squibb as Woody's wife who verbally spars with Woody and whose now obese form hides a wildish personal history.
NEBRASKA is measured, sad, funny, and in its simplicity impressively well written. We get the feeling that people in Nebraska are just like the rest of us, only a little slower at getting about it. I rate NEBRASKA a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1821549/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nebraska/
MAN OF STEEL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is another reboot of the Superman series telling the now very familiar story of how Kal-El was sent to Earth and became known as Superman. Henry Cavill plays the part as an invulnerable but rather joyless super hero in a joyless film. Zack Snyder directs a screenplay by David S. Goyer. Snyder who made his mark with the film 300 can manipulate images but fails to bring them to life. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Superman comes to the screen once more in yet another telling of his origin story, but this time the film is more detailed and violent. The new version is darker in color-palette tone and darker in writing tone. One expects this tone for a Batman film. Batman is sort of Dracula as crime-fighter. Superman is usually lighter in emotional feeling on the small and large screen. While Batman broods about how to stop criminals like the one who killed his parents, Superman on the other hand is deciding, "Golly, maybe I CAN collect all the nuclear weapons and bring peace to the world." (Notable exceptions to the general light tone of Superman were the Max Fleisher Superman cartoons of which several were rather bleak and noir-ish.) Since the days of Fleischer I do not remember a Superman dramatization so downbeat.
Superman films used to be made on the cheap. See some of the Kirk Alyn serials or the George Reeves television episodes. Then after STAR WARS for a while there was a big push to improve the special effects. These days the producers of comic book films still throw their money at special effects but now also at art direction. Here this made MAN OF STEEL a beautiful film to look at but watching is a rather empty experience. The new Superman is played by Henry Cavill, who has a flinty look, but he is not an expressive actor and he does not make for an engaging Superman. He has nowhere near the personal appeal that Christopher Reeve had. His fight comes down to brute super force. The writer has given him a foe who has enough brute super force to give Superman trouble but enough less than our hero so in the end Superman can triumph. The Man of Steel can just hit a little harder than the bad guys. It would be more interesting if he were out-thinking them.
There are some liberties taken with the original stories. For example, Lois Lane knows Superman before he was Superman. She, in fact, names him Superman. Another change is that his caped suit is now more like body armor with a shape of its own. Superman does something I do not remember him ever doing in a film. Here he can fly with a vertical posture. We usually see him fly horizontally with his arms forward like he is diving into water. When he flies vertically it makes it obvious that his flying is not just him jumping with the energy coming from his lower body. His flight ability just seems instead to be magical. The revisions and original touches are enough so that the story is not identical, but it is still very similar.
MAN OF STEEL looks nice but is a rather cold experience in human terms not unlike director Zach Snyder's previous films 300, WATCHMEN, and the off-kilter animation film with the long name: LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE. The film has more than its share of familiar actors with Russell Crowe's talent squandered on the role of Jor-El, Superman's father. Amy Adams is reasonably cast as Lois Lane. Kevin Costner plays Superman's foster father, which is again overkill. Diane Lane is Martha Kent, the foster mother. Chief villain General Zod is played by Michael Shannon.
MAN OF STEEL is at times a feast for the eyes but still comes off as a film without a soul or even a dramatic center. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0770828/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/superman_man_of_steel/
Jewish Food (letter of comment by Don Blosser):
In response to various comments on tongue in the 12/20/13 issue of the MT VOID, Don Blosser writes:
Adding a little to the tongue discussion, more of a tongue-in-mouth (not my own though) and not tongue-in-cheek.
We ate tongue and beef heart occasionally when I was young, but never purchased it from the grocery.
Granddad and my uncle always had several head of cattle. Once a year or so they would send a steer to the butcher and sell the families part of the meat; our family, one of my aunt's family, and another uncle would usually order a quarter, I guess my grandparents and uncle took what was left over.
We never could afford a hind-quarter since it wasn't free, we always took a fore-quarter because we had an upright freezer at home.
More often than not it seemed, our share included the tongue or heart.
I never really cared for either, but made them palatable by spreading Heinz 57 sauce over my portions. I think Mom boiled the tongue and fried or broiled the heart.
I've seen both in the meat markets or meat counter at the grocery, but never had the urge to buy.
I worked as a night security guard for a time, occasionally at a slaughterhouse. Part of my job was to tour the plant every hour or two to check that temperatures in the various freezer areas were okay.
I would see whole beef carcasses suspended from hooks, looking inside the interiors were filled with fat and the kidneys were still attached. In another area would be the organ meats, lots of hearts, livers, tongues, and tripe. Funny thing was I always walked through, never had to put on special clothing or shoes.
From the outside, the plant had a pit for entrails, bones, and so forth. The plant received shipments from other slaughterhouses, sometimes the trucks must have arrived too late, so they would sit outside waiting to be unloaded the next morning. I don't remember any coverings over the contents. It was fall or early winter, so I don't remember much in the way of odors or insects.
At another location I worked was a packing house that was under construction. The rooms were huge and I was impressed at the numbers of layers of insulation being put out. Didn't see anything else of interest there. [-db]
You know, I think I might go vegetarian. [-mrl]
And the "Jewish Daily Forward" weighs in with "Ramen Noodles, Meet the Matzo Ball" (about Jewish-Japanese fusion cuisine) at:
Superheroes (letter of comment by John Bell):
In response to Mark's comments on superheroes in the 12/20/13 issue of the MT VOID, John Bell writes:
Nice superhero pun.
Speaking of Superheroes, you might appreciate this artwork of an aging superhero:
Hans Christian Andersen (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Jerry Ryan's letter of comment and Evelyn's response about a Hans Christian Andersen biopic in the 12/20/13 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry writes:
See, now ya made me Google it and I'll be damned if I can find it. :-(
Maybe it wasn't the rights, per se, but some script treatments or story ideas that were on the shelf?
This is the closest thing I can come up with, maybe this is what I remembered...
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
BURNING PARADISE by Robert Charles Wilson (ISBN 978-0-765-33261-5) is a good novel, but a bit shaky on the extrapolation I like in an alternate history novel. With an earlier end to WWI, would Raymond Chandler have been writing such noir novels as THE LITTLE SISTER? Or are we supposed to think it is the same title but a different story? On the other hand, Wilson's plot is not predictable. I'd give this a higher rating if there was more specific about the terrestrial geopolitical situation, but the emphasis on the interactions with the Hypercolony makes me knock it down a point as alternate history (though it is very interesting from a "philosophy of consciousness" standpoint).
THE BOLEYN KING by Laura Andersen (ISBN 978-0-345-53409-5) just did not do it for me. I'll admit it--after reading sixty pages, I checked out the reviews on-line. I knew this was the first of a series, but it apparently ends on a cliff-hanger, which I am never thrilled with. The characters and attitudes seem way too modern, and apparently the "Minuette" character whom I found so annoying for sixty pages is the main character, and a Mary Sue at that. The story is evidently more a murder mystery than a serious alternate history, and the fact that there's a Reader's Guide tells me that the target audience is not the alternate history crowd. Not surprisingly, the reviews for the second novel (at least in amazon.com) are more positive, probably because people who did not like the first one would not even read the second.)
[As defined by Wikipedia, a "Mary Sue" is "an idealized character representing the author.")
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the exercise of a combination of two facilities, which we may call intuition and ingenuity. --Alan TuringTweet
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