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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/03/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 27, Whole Number 1787
Table of Contents
Film Trivia (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Wolf-human combinations appear in what two 1930s Universal horror films? I will publish all people who send in correct answers. [-mrl]
Science Fact, Not Science Fiction:
"11 Science Facts That Seem More Like Science Fiction":
We Are Just Not Built For Space. Let's Go Anyway. (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the mainstays of science fiction stories has been people living in space stations or on space ships or on other planets. They all posit futures in which human life is not restricted to living under this ocean of Earth's atmosphere. We get out; we go to other planets; we visit other parts of our galaxy. But that is science fiction. Two events recently have gotten me thinking about the issue and have raised my level of skepticism that we really have what it takes to make sizable use of space. I would like to think that I am wrong. But it will be a long time before we can do anything like what was done in 1940s to 1960s science fiction and probably not ever. Our becoming a space-faring race is not inevitable and may even be impossible. Are we made of the stuff that can survive the conditions of space that would be required?
Well, we made it to the moon. We had enough of the right stuff to do that. It is not entirely clear we could do that again today if we wanted to do it. It would very probably be prohibitively expensive. But as an existence proof we have shown that we could make it to the moon. That is not much. It is not leaving the Earth's orbit around the sun. So what is the next step? Most people would pick traveling to Mars. And what are we looking at. Well, people think we might be able to send people to Mars if we do not have to bring them back. They would have to be people willing to dedicate the rest of their lives to Mars exploration. Maybe some people are that dedicated, but it is hardly what we mean by having people survive in space if it maroons them millions of miles to Earth. And recently we were told they might have a more difficult time staying alive than we thought they would have. It seems that on the trip to Mars the astronauts would be subjected to high levels of ionizing radiation. It is calculated to not be a lethal dose, but not much short of one either. Until we solve the shielding problem we are hardly strong enough and durable enough to call ourselves a space-faring species.
It is easy to visit other stars in a Star Trek movie, but do we really have what it takes where the rubber meets the void? The film GRAVITY, just recently released, gives some idea how inhospitable a place space can be. The main character has to engineer her own rescue plan. And as hard as that is in the film, the real thing is almost certainly orders of magnitude more difficult. The main character of GRAVITY declares she hates space, which is ironic considering how many things work out unrealistically easy for her. We are really tough compared to the physical demands of modern life on Earth. But put us in orbit around our own planet and we have a very limited ability to adapt to the unexpected.
If we are not durable enough to leave the orbit of our home planet, we are hardly going to be an interplanetary species, much less an interstellar one. It has been estimated that it would take the Space Shuttle 165,000 years to reach the nearest extra-solar star at shuttle speeds. The distances and dangers of space point to what is needed is a species that is durable and long-lived. It almost seems that Sequoias are more adapted to space-faring than humans are.
Of course, there are alternatives to becoming a space-faring species. We are exploring Mars right now. We are doing it by sending remote devices that do our exploring for us by proxy. And our probes are evolving and adapting to space much faster than we are. But I hate to give up the dream of humankind spreading across the galaxy. It is a long, hard, and expensive road to becoming a species that does not need the Earth for the species to survive. That might take a millennium, though I would hope it would be a lot less. But Planet Earth will support us only so long without some catastrophe ending its ability to provide that support. After that we are on our own.
There are two ways to take this glum assessment. Actually there is a continuum between them. We can say that becoming space-capable is an impossible task and space will be forever beyond our grasp. Or we can put the problems our of our minds and go full-tilt into trying to move beyond this planet. My one meager vote is to pick a position more toward full-tilt. I would say that we should expect that space is a whole lot harder to utilize than we are thinking it is right now, but we should do what we can to move into this environment. I think we need the challenge and the frontier of space. We just have to be ready to expect it to be a much harder nut to crack than anyone can envision right now. Still ultimately the question of whether humanity has a future in deep space will not be left up to space. It will be left up to humanity. [-mrl]
Cataloguing Books Redux (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the 06/08/12 issue of the MT VOID, I listed all the problems in cataloguing one's books and keeping track of all the various formats. At the time I listed three "dead-tree" formats (hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback) and at least half a dozen e-formats (.txt, .doc, .rtf, .pdf, .epub, and .mobi) on at least five types of media (3.5" diskette, CD-ROM, Kindle, hard drive, and external drive) Audiobooks were on four types of media (cassette, CD, MP3 on CD-ROM, and MP3 on disk).
There is also the question of *what* to catalog. It used to be easy: books were catalogued, individual stories in them were not. But ebooks have to a great extent decoupled the short story/novelette/novella from the need to be in a larger volume. So, for example, the Hugo packet has novels (and graphic novels, and related works), but also shorter fiction pieces, magazine issues, and so on. For that matter, some novellas were published as books in their own right, while others were included in magazines or anthologies. Do I catalog only some novellas?
[And there is the question of whether a novel included in an anthology gets its own catalog entry--for example, THE DEMOLISHED MAN is in Damon Knight's A SCIENCE FICTION ARGOSY.]
In the intervening time, it has gotten worse. I wrote in the 09/21/12 issue about an ad for a cruise that contained a science fiction story. (There was also a Land's End catalog a few years ago that had a Ray Bradbury story in it.) But we also recently bought two "Playaways"s at a library book sale. These are MP3 audiobooks that come on their own dedicated player (about the size of a cigarette pack). It turns out that Amazon has a .azw format as well as a .mobi format. And I forgot an older item: my "Eripmav" T-shirt (featured Damon Knight's short story of that name printed in full on the shirt). How does one catalog a T-shirt? (It's not even "dead-tree" since the material is not from a tree, but the cotton plant.) Does the size matter? Is the large size like a trade paperback and the small like a mass-market paperback, or what? [-ecl]
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Sex, drugs, the most beautiful women money can buy, expensive cars, and yachts make up the world of stock scammer Jordan Belfort. There are echoes of GOODFELLAS in Martin Scorsese's portrait of Belfort based on Belfort's own memoir. At three hours in length the film shows enough sex and drug parties that they become repetitive and for some will be unwelcome. But the film almost seems to admire the man called "the world's greatest salesman" and other titles less charitable. The film sports more humor than any Scorsese film since AFTER HOURS. The most serious problem is that the nature of Belfort's crimes afford very little visual depiction. We have to take the story's word that what Belfort did was very, very bad and forget that it looks like fun. Scorsese shows us no victim of Belfort's crimes but Belfort himself and he gets little more than a slap on the wrist from the law. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Martin Scorsese brings to the screen a film of the career of Jordan Belfort.
When Jordan Belfort (played by Scorsese-favorite Leonardo DiCaprio) comes to work as a Wall Street broker he has a lot to learn, but is quickly taken under the wing of a successful dealer, the delightfully off-the-wall Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) who gives Belfort advice on hooking customers and on the importance of well-timed masturbation. Just as Belfort is getting comfortable working for Hanna the bottom falls out from under him and Hanna. But Belfort soon discovers how much more profitable he can make it to deal in "penny" stocks. Armed with this knowledge he builds an organization and an empire on charming customers, employing less than polished salespeople, and telling copious lies. (Which makes this film a good pairing with MARGIN CALL.)
Some of Martin Scorsese's films have the feel of remakes of other films in a different environment. THE KING OF COMEDY felt a lot like a reworking of the plot of his own TAXI DRIVER. THE DEPARTED was openly a reworking of the film INFERNAL AFFAIRS. In a lot of ways THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is structured like his GOODFELLAS. Again it is a study of a criminal. We follow a heady rise of the criminal, which goes by fairly rapidly. The character rides a rollercoaster of success to the top. Then we will look in detail at the events of one day in which things start to get untied. After that our main character has a relatively quick fall and ends up out of prison, but in a much diminished life style. This same structure fit GOODFELLAS and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.
When Scorsese does traditional crime he has the advantage that the crime is visually dramatic. The crimes are visually interesting. He had more of a challenge with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, where the actual crimes are someone breaking an abstract law or even just talking on a phone. So for this film his visuals concentrate on the ill-gotten rewards of the crime. Those rewards involve some scenes of drug-taking and a whole lot of scenes of highly attractive naked or near-naked women as well as fast cars and yachts. By an order of magnitude this film has more sex and nudity than any previous Scorsese film in memory. In many ways it also probably has more vulgarity. There is more than a little dry wit. Matthew McConaughey as Hanna turns in his third Academy-Award-nomination-worthy performance in a single year.
The real Belfort was a little more darkly complected than DiCaprio and the latter really seems a little young in the role. He looks like a high school kid pretending to be adult, much as the role he played in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.
There are other familiar faces like Jon Favreau. Rob Reiner plays Belfort's father. It is good to see still acting longtime British TV staple Joanna Lumley as Aunt Emma. Also, Jean Dujardin plays a Swiss banker. His face should be familiar from his Oscar-winning performance in THE ARTIST and also as OSS 117.
In some ways this is a dangerous film. This is a crime film that de-emphasizes that there were real human victims to the crimes. And Belfort's moral decay is his greatest punishment. Terence Winter (THE SOPRANOS, BOARDWALK EMPIRE) writes the screenplay adapting from Belfort's memoir. At three hours in length the film as a whole does not drag, but some of the individual sequences could certainly have been trimmed. Scorsese give us huge excess in its various party scenes, but probably not as much as Belfort enjoyed in real life. I rate THE WOLF OF WALL STREET a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0993846/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_wolf_of_wall_street_2013/
BEFORE THE DAWN: RECOVERING THE LOST HISTORY OF OUR ANCESTORS by Nicholas Wade (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
This excellent book summarizes our knowledge of human prehistory circa 2006. It is already obsolete in its treatment of the Neanderthal genome, which we now know intermixed with our own. This minor quibble aside, BEFORE THE DAWN provides a gripping and well informed read as it traces the path from the earliest human evolution to our possible genetic futures. Guided by the "telescope" of modern DNA analysis, many questions long thought unanswerable are brought to light.
Although relatively easy to read, BEFORE THE DAWN contains enough wonder for ten books, and defies easy encapsulation. Perhaps the most stunning revelation is that evolution has moved much faster than we ever realized, with the true start of the characteristics we find the most human (language, art, music, religion) dating back a mere 50,000 years to a small group--perhaps only 5,000 individuals--located in Africa, most probably in modern day Ethiopia. Homo sapiens may have "appeared" human in terms of height and skull shape for 150,000-100,000 years, but only a very recent mutation enabled the mental furniture that we take for granted.
One sad fact about books on human pre-history is that any book written prior to 2000 is substantially incorrect. Books from the 1930s or the 1950s read more like humor pieces than scientific works when compared to modern knowledge based on DNA studies. As the jacket blurb from E. O. Wilson says, "By far the best book I have ever read on humanity's deep history." I endorse Wilson's message. Anyone who wants to call themselves educated in the 21st century needs to be familiar with the material in BEFORE THE DAWN.
Much of BEFORE THE DAWN is not politically correct. A current widespread delusion is that primitive humans lived lives of peaceful, bucolic sloth, idly passing the time with sex and music until this Eden was ruined by modern technology. In fact, early humans experienced more death from violence than modern society does on the average. This is not because of mammoth pitched battles of the sort we might stage, but instead was the result of a continuous level of deadly violence between small tribes, including widespread cannibalism. Perhaps the most salient point is that the original 5,000 humans spread over the world, wiping out all similar competing primate species, whether by competition for resources or direct violence.
Another commonplace is that evolution has been stopped by modern technology. The evidence points in the opposite direction, suggesting that it is possible that modern conditions have accelerated evolution by reducing genetic drift and creating a larger pool of mutations to select from. Modern DNA analysis allows us to follow the spread of recent mutations such as lactose tolerance over scales much less than 50,000 years. Perhaps most intriguing is that idea that humanity has "domesticated" itself genetically, resulting in more stable societies that make agriculture possible. This notion forms the basis for Richard K. Morgan's SF novel THIRTEEN.
BEFORE THE DAWN is highly recommended for SF fans everywhere, as well as those interested in human prehistory, and anyone with a mind open to new knowledge. Persons with very strong left-wing views may find DAWN disturbing and politically incorrect. Persons with very strong right-wing religious views may find DAWN disturbing and religiously incorrect. WARNING: Children who read this book may grow up to become scientists! [-dls]
Historic Dates (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Mark's comments on historic dates in the 12/27/13 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein writes:
[Mark wrote, "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."]
7/20/1969 - Several people have claimed its historic nature, but it did not involve a death or going to war. [-pir]
I did say "almost always." But in addition I really do not remember anybody actually saying of 7/20/1969 that it was a historic day. Would there have been any point to saying it? Some days everyone knows are historic. [-mrl]
Artwork (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Evelyn's comments about layout in the 12/27/13 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Oh, so you two need some artwork for MT VOID? Well, then; I may be able to help you guys out in that department.
  U S A  () () () ()
There. That should make me eligible in the Fan Artist Hugo category. [-jp]
CHARLY (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on CHARLY in the 12/27/13 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Once again a varied newsletter/zine from the two of you, and I thank you for it. The only thing I really feel like commenting on is the listing of TCM movies for January. I have long felt that CHARLY was Cliff Robertson's best acting performance, well-deserving of his Oscar. His is a beautifully nuanced character, one which the viewer easily empathizes with. The first time I saw this movie the ending had me in tears. Definitely a movie that stays with you. [-jp]
I like it only a little less than you, and I admit that is because the novel by Daniel Keyes is probably my favorite novel. [-mrl]
MAN OF STEEL (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Mark's review of MAN OF STEEL in the 12/27/13 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes:
Enjoyed your review of Man of Steel, which was pretty much spot on, IMO, except on this point:
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.
I'm pretty sure we saw something similar in the first Donner movie (from 1978), where the character seems to just sort of float rather than jump-and-fly (like a speeding bullet). I think this was mostly in the presence of Lois Lane, and it also had that sense of flight being magical rather than based on a force, and always annoyed me. I've now gotten used to the interpretation of super-flight as a more flexible and magical ability, and it allows for a more god-like presence on screen and in comic art, which artists seemed to like to render. Snyder seems to be very much in sync with the aesthetics of comic art. [-ak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I just watched THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S. I know it is considered a wonderful movie, but really? The priest (played by Bing Crosby) starts by giving all the children a holiday. Never mind that this disrupts teaching them--what about whether there is anyone to take care of them at home during the day? Surely some of them have both parents working, or maybe their mother has gone somewhere for the day. Even if they do not need to watch them, will someone be there to make them lunch?
Then we have the doctor who tells Crosby (and others) all the details of one of his other patients--what is wrong, how he is treating him, etc. And after this Crosby apparently convinces the doctor to lie to the other patient about his condition so that he will make a large donation to the church!
(But then the doctor also tells Crosby about someone else's condition not only *before* he tells the actual patient, but then tells Crosby he is *not* going to tell the patient, and Crosby should not either.)
Crosby also tries to convince a nun (played by Ingrid Bergman) to pass one of the students who has failed all her courses because (according to Crosby) it is more important to give the students confidence than to teach them. This is precisely the attitude that has gotten our education system into the mess it is in.
I guess all this is supposed to be heart-warming, but I find it all rather ... appalling.
[It is appalling, but audiences frequently forego logic if the film makes them feel good. In CASABLANCA what exactly what are these "Letters of Transit" that the Nazi SS is not allowed even to question and then after all the fuss they seem to be ignored at the airport? -mrl]
DEATH ON A PALE HORSE by Donald Thomas (ISBN 978-1-60598-394-3) would be a lot better if there weren't egregious errors in it. First we have Thomas quoting Sherlock Holmes as having said, "Dear me, sir! I see you have just been in Afghanistan. You were lucky to come back from Maiwand alive, despite your injury." Any observant reader will remember that what Holmes said according to A STUDY IN SCARLET was "How are you? You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive."
Now, I suppose you could claim that Watson (who supposedly wrote both the accounts) did not remember exactly what Holmes said, though I find that extremely unlikely. In any case, Holmes's first words are iconic, so why Thomas changes them is a complete mystery.
But even more inexplicable is Watson writing, "Yet while we were putting our detective partnership on a secure footing, in such cases as the decipherment of the Musgrave Ritual or the retrieval of the Admiralty plans for the Bruce-Partington submarine, stolen from Woolwich Arsenal, the world outside our rooms was moving on."
Sherlockian scholar William Baring-Gould and others date the case of the Bruce-Partington plans as November, 1895.
Holmes's involvement in the case in this book begins on a March 27 which was a Tuesday, and other evidence narrows it down to 1894. So the Bruce-Partington case has not even happened yet.
As for the Musgrave Ritual, it is a case that is *clearly* before Watson and Holmes met, since Watson writes: "These," said [Holmes], "are all that I have left to remind me of the adventure of the Musgrave Ritual." I had heard him mention the case more than once, though I had never been able to gather the details. "I should be so glad," said I, "if you would give me an account of it."
The case is dated by Baring-Gould as being from 1879, well before Holmes and Watson met, which is pretty well agreed was in 1881.
Now it is true at the end Thomas makes a big thing of noting that in the world of *his* book, Watson did not marry Mary Morstan or buy the Paddington medical practice, possibly for the sole purpose of being able to claim that any errors are not really errors at all, because all this an alternate universe. However, it is stretching credulity to think that there was a Musgrave Ritual case in the universe of Thomas's book, but that it took place years later, and that the Bruce-Partington case took place earlier.
In any case, as I noted, this case begins on March 27, yet towards the end Holmes says that the new moon is on "29 March, just a couple of weeks away." I did not keep precise count, but the events of the story took place over a period of a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, but certainly not a full year. However, March 29, 1894, was not a new moon. (March 7 and April 5, 1894, were.) The closest years in which March 29 was a new moon were 1881 and 1903, and March 27 was not a Tuesday in either of those.
Okay, all this may seem like nit-picking. But after all, isn't that what Holmes would do? [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. --William PittTweet
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