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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/07/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 32, Whole Number 1792
Table of Contents
2014 CAMPBELLIAN ANTHOLOGY Free!:
You can get a free e-copy of the 2014 CAMPBELLIAN ANTHOLOGY, which contains works from all 111 writers eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for New Writer--almost a million words of fiction in several ebook formats. Details and download link at:
PRI Show about Science Fiction:
This week's episode of the Public Radio International show "Studio 360" is the first of two parts about science fiction: "Flying Cars and Tricorders: How Sci-Fi Invented the Present" (#1504, 24 January 2014), at:
The Fourth Man (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Harry Lime is dead. But Holly Martins will be back in THE FOURTH MAN stalking the criminal Fuzzi Peech. [-mrl]
Mini-Reviews (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
BLUE CAPRICE (2013)
BLUE CAPRICE opens with 911 calls after killings by the DC Beltway sniper. We go to a flashback. Lee has a sort of father-son relationship with John. It is the wrong sort. John is mentoring Lee in his philosophy of hatred and betrayal. It is bad for Lee since John probably should not be around people. John lives in a stew of hatreds. He has grudges against anyone who was ever close to him. To him the world is a collection of conspiracies, many of which John thinks victimize him. John indoctrinates Lee and uses military training manuals on sniping to teach Lee how to himself be a sniper. John says that if you kill senselessly and randomly you are invisible. Nobody thinks to associate you with the crime. So to cleanse the world, John will have Lee go on a spree of random killings. They buy a blue Chevy Caprice and John removes the back seat so that the trunk can be used as a shooting stand.
Alexandre Moors directs a script by R.F.I. Porto that is more about how John gets himself into the proper mindset to kill than it is about later executing the actual killing spree. That is probably the right choice if the viewer wants to understand the crime. Moors uses a naturalistic style that at times makes the early part of the film a little slow. We come away with a better feel for who commits what we think of as senseless crimes and what is their reality at the time of the crime. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (2013)
This Belgian-Dutch co-production in Flemish language still has a fair amount in English. It is the story of an amorous relationship from its beginning to its end. Only the telling goes forward and backward in time with flash-backs and flash-forwards. Didier and Elise are married with a daughter who has cancer. The film tells their story going back and forward in time. The couple was one time were in a musical band that specialized in American bluegrass songs sung in English. The episodes move all over their relationship and between the segments they sing bluegrass songs. Their history develops slowly and has moments of pain and of joy. The story has very touching moments but also moments in which the pace drags. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10
THE PURGE (2013)
Regardless of the premise, most of this film is a cliched story of a family in a fortified house protecting themselves from bunch of goofy looking psychos attacking them with big weapons. But the premise has its own goofiness. It is March 21, 2022 and society has been in large part fixed. Unemployment is low, crime is low, and there is prosperity aplenty. How was this done? The first day of spring from 7PM to 7AM the next morning all law is suspended for an event called "The Purge." You can go on a killing spree and all government will do is to look on. How does this help solve crime? People get their hatred and anger and paranoia out of their system one night a year. Of course this sort of thing could cause more killing. As for employment, I suppose if you kill off a significant part of you labor force it might help eliminate unemployment, but it would also lower demand. Nobody seems to have given much serious thought to the social impact of the purge. This film has gotten some very positive recommendations, but it really is just a crass action film. Rating: low 1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10
MONSTER UNIVERSITY (2013)
A young Mike and Sully meet at college where they flunk out at being scary. They decide joining a scare competition can reinstate them. This is a waste of time prequel to MONSTERS, INC. The part is Martin and Sully as they first meet each other in college. This film probably did not start as a monster film. It was a bad college film and the plot was altered to the characters from MONSTERS INC. If it had not been green-lit it would probably have next shown up as NEMO GOES TO COLLEGE. The plot was boring and digital animation is not enough to make it interesting. It is hard to believe the Pixar that made the TOY STORY trilogy would apply their animation expertise to this script. There is not an interesting character or even a sincere laugh in the entire film. Rating: low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10
Children of Protagonists (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Does it seem in literature as though authors take an almost solipsistic view of the protagonist of the story? In so many mythic stories--Jason and Medea, Abraham and Isaac, Job--the children of the protagonist are mere tokens or symbols rather than individuals in their own right. Medea kills and feeds hers and Jason's children to Jason--what did they do to deserve this? (Shakespeare takes this and re-uses it in TITUS ANDRONICUS.) God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac--even though he rescinds this, doesn't this put a damper on the father-son relationship between the two. God tests Job by killing his children. Later he grants him more children, but the ones who were killed--didn't they have some right to be treated based on their deeds, not as tokens in a game between God and the Adversary? [-ecl]
THE WIND RISES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Japanese cult animation director Hayao Miyazaki makes his final film before retiring, a fictionalized biography of the aircraft designer who gave Japan the Zero fighter plane. The story is okay, but not really compelling. What is more engaging is the view of life in Japan between the World Wars and Miyazaki's take on international politics. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10 Hayao Miyazaki has made many animated fantasies in Japan, some classics like SPIRITED AWAY, and most seem to deal with flying in one way or another. His interest was sparked when his father ran an airplane rudder factory. Flying machines are a lifelong fascination for him. He now plans to retire and his exit film, animated as usual, is the fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane that was used effectively by the Japanese in World War II. This is a brave choice considering the importance of the American market and the film openly admiring the plane that killed many Americans.
Jiro is very much a Miyazaki sort of character. From the time he was a young child he has dreamed of climbing to the roof of his house and flying away. Soon he also is dreaming of meeting Giovanni Caproni, a famous Italian aircraft designer. Needing glasses, Jiro cannot be a pilot and chooses instead to become a designer himself. Jiro's fantasies are a big part of the story with unannounced segues from the real world into Jiro's world of fantasy. As he gets older he goes to work for an airplane manufacturer--I do not remember it being identified as Mitsubishi. They he works of a supervisor who is visualized as only coming up to waist-level on the young designer. At first the little supervisor gives Jiro a hard time, but eventually they become close friends. Jiro also meets a girl a little younger than himself who becomes his love interest.
The film steers away from Jiro's attitude about the Americans whom Japan will be at war with. More it emphasized is his relationship with Germans and the rest of Europe. He does seem to dislike the Germans who are supplying second-rate technology to his country and keeping the best for themselves. He is portrayed as really being more in conflict with them than with Americans who really are not portrayed in this film. In any case, this is the first time in my memory that a Miyazaki film involves itself with real world politics.
Visually the film is very nice, showing beautiful studies of natural settings and when away from nature showing amazing detail in his views of towns and of the aircraft factory. My wife pointed out how much detail there was on the slide rule that Jiro uses from time to time and how nicely Miyazaki animates airplane propellers accelerating. Going from having each blade visible to having it be a disk where you no longer see each blade is difficult to transition.
Toward the middle of the film the pace slackens but the time is not wasted. We see Japan ravaged by the Great Tokyo Earthquake albeit presented so we are not sure we are not just seeing another of Jiro's fantasies. We also see a country attacked by tuberculosis.
Is this a film that people will want to remember Miyazaki by? In my opinion he will be better remembered for SPIRITED AWAY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, but this film is well above his average. His ambivalence to war with the United States may strike some as off- putting, but that is Japan, not Miyazaki.
I rate THE WIND RISES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2013293/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_wind_rises/ [-mrl]
THE TOWER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In Seoul, South Korea, a new 108-story luxury skyscraper is hit by a helicopter on Christmas Eve setting the building on fire and turning it into a deathtrap. This film was obviously an attempt to out-do Irwin Allen's THE TOWERING INFERNO. The characters are a little flat in both films, but the spectacular visuals do a lot that Allen could not. Don't look for character development or deep meaning, but THE TOWER is a real roller-coaster ride. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Hong Kong and Korean filmmakers have a strategy of taking on popular Western genres, making them their own, and then pumping up the action sequences, often at the expense of credibility. Filmmakers like John Woo are best known for doing this with gangster films in which the shootouts are huge firefights. THE TOWER represents the same strategy for another genre. It is a South Korean knock off of Irwin Allen's THE TOWERING INFERNO. I don't know much about super-high-rise architecture, but I am willing to accept most of what I am seeing as being realistic. And if the objective was to out-do THE TOWERING INFERNO, I have to say, "Mission accomplished." This film is one heck of a scary ride.
It is Christmas Eve in Tower Sky, a new 108-floor apartment building that is a self-contained community. We are told that certain mistakes were made with the water delivery system in order to accommodate more shops in the upper stories, and of course we all know what is coming. In the middle of the Christmas celebration a helicopter outside the building gets caught in an up updraft and loses control, its blades impressively slicing through shattering glass windows and starting fires at several places in the building. Most of the fire escape routes become deathtraps. Immediately the viewer starts asking who of the people we have met in the early, peaceful parts of the film are now going to die. Who will escape and what will be left of them? These are the same question all disaster films ask.
Based on a screenplay by Sang-don Kim, the major attraction of a film like this is the action scenes. The action scenes do have the visual splendor of explosions and billowing fire all over the building. And it is clear that director and co-writer Ji-hoon Kim knows that these effects are the real stars of the film. We do not get a chance to learn enough about the main characters to care about them as people. They are given fairly flat characterizations. Most of what character they have does not really transcend the language barrier. And with unfamiliar actors, we cannot really appreciate the film the way a South Korean probably would. What the American viewer gets out of THE TOWER instead are those features that do not need any translation. An elevator opening and exploding out like a blast furnace, with flames engulfing panicky people who waited to board it, that sort of thing needs no translation.
In some ways Kim's use of violence is reserved. We may see from a medium distance a crowd of people engulfed in flame. But we never see one person with burning flesh. Kim wants to out-do THE TOWERING INFERNO, but that is not how he wants to do it. Large- scale mayhem is spectacular while close-ups might bother the viewer. Occasionally we are not sure exactly what we are looking at, but we go on to the next image quickly. Kim uses CGI on occasion, but not really obviously. Some scenes of the tower against the sky have a slightly ersatz, computerized feel. A skyway sequence is probably the crown jewel of the film.
One is left with a few questions. One child is a major character, but she seems unrealistically to be the only child in the building. Also the smoke of the fire must be visible all over Seoul and the burning building is spectacular, but there are no crowds in the street watching the destruction. This is a film that takes a little meeting half way, but THE TOWER does have a lot for the eye. I rate it +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. THE TOWER is available for instant streaming from Netflix.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2554270/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_tower_2013/
THE OUTSIDER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Warning: Minor spoilers.
CAPSULE: A British mercenary goes AWOL when he is told his daughter has been found dead of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. He goes to LA to find out what is happening and finds the dead girl is definitely not his daughter. He sets out to find where his daughter is and who the dead girl is. Brian A. Miller writes and directs an action film that makes for a fun evening, but does not stand out in a crowd. Perhaps it borrows more from the action film genre than it returns. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Lex Walker (played by Craig Fairbrass) is a military contractor in Afghanistan who tries to follow orders, but he is his own man. He has a long record of military successes and just as long a record of incidents of insubordination. [Both of which seem almost de rigor among action heroes.] Called into his commanding officer's office he is informed that his daughter, living in Los Angeles, has been found dead, presumably of a drug overdose.
Walker has been out of touch with his daughter for many months and has no idea what she might be involved with. He requests leave to go and find out what has happened and his request is promptly denied. Well, his daughter is Walkers's only family and he is not going to let a direct order not to go stand in his way. [No, honest, I know this all sounds familiar but it is a 2014 film, and it is mostly newly shot.] First stop in LA is the coroner's office to identify the body for the police. Well, that stops him right there. He has never seen this dead woman on the coroner's table. That means his daughter may possibly still be alive. Where is she? And if this is not his daughter, who is it?
Investigating the incident is Police Detective Klein (Jason Patric). He and Walker have repeated run-ins and he does not know if he can trust Walker. Walker is trying to unravel the facts with his own subtle "bull in a China shop" style. His investigations bring him to his daughter's employer, a major corporation headed by a shady cyber-entrepreneur Schuster played by James Caan. Caan always makes a good villain. Here though the script does not let him play a very bright one however. Schuster seems to subscribe to the Darth Vader school of management. When a henchman makes a big mistake his punishment is to Schuster shoot him to death in cold blood in Schuster's own office. A corporate head might fire a disappointing employee, but he would not likely take the risk of personally murdering him in his own office. A number of people are killed in the course of the story and I am not sure the moral weight of that is properly handled in a script that is more anxious to have thrills than to have a dramatically satisfying plot.
Craig Fairbrass was not an actor I could remember ever seeing. His IMDB page lists what looks like a string of action films. He seems to be a Steven Seagal type but with a British accent that occasionally gave me trouble. I suppose it would be out of character for him to enunciate a little more clearly. Where Fairbrass has an advantage over other hero actors is that he is not particularly attractive. What M said of Bond in CASINO ROYALE is even truer of Fairbrass. He is a blunt instrument. He seems capable of real rage-filled violence in a way that a Daniel Craig is not. The casting of the film is decent, but as is frequently the case when the same person writes and directs, one talent is stronger than the other. Brian A. Miller was more ready to direct an action film than he was ready to write one. I would give THE OUTSIDER a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2198241/combined
ON THE STEEL BREEZE by Alastair Reynolds (book review by Dale L Skran, Jr.):
ON THE STEEL BREEZE picks up some time after the conclusion of BLUE EARTH REMEMBERED, but returns us to Reynold's "African" future universe, which chronicles the life and times of the Akinyas, a family that by sheer will and audacity become the pivots around with the human future revolves. This is a 482-page book, but once things get going, it's hard to put down. Like most of Reynolds's books, there are a number of mysteries the characters seek to solve.
In BREEZE, Chiku Akinya, the daughter of Sunday and Jitendra Akinya from BLUE EARTH (who appear here as well), undertakes a daring plan. She has herself rebuilt as three clones with identical pasts, and a quantum implant that allows them to periodically exchange memories. One takes on the name Chiku Green, and joins the caravan of holoships voyaging to Crucible, a distant world identified as the first target for human interstellar colonization. Chiku Red flies her own, stripped down ship deep into space to discover the final fate of Eunice Akinya, her grandmother, last seen blasting for the stars in her own experimental ship. Finally, Chikju Yellow stays on Earth as a backup, with the expectation that she will lead a quiet life.
Of course, being Akinyas, nothing quite goes as it seems it will. In tale told over decades (there is no faster than light travel here), we learn what happened to Eunice and Chiku Red. Chiku Green embarks on a daring series of adventures that eventually bring the holoships to a state of total war, and Chiku Green to a confrontation with the absolutely alien. Chiku Yellow's quiet life is destroyed by a memory update sent by Chiku Green, and she is embroiled in a twilight struggle for the fate of humanity with a vast and relentless artilect that has infected "the Mechanism" which runs this future world.
Reynolds is a master of the slow build up leading to apocalyptic action, and STEEL BREEZE is no exception. A grand struggle between humans and artificial intelligences concludes with a deadly battle using relativistic kinetic weapons on an interstellar scale in which negotiation is just as important as weaponry. The Akinyas are trapped in their vaulting ambition, forced to gamble for higher and higher stakes as the story proceeds. Their lives are long, but full of loss, since they find it hard to hang on to family and friends as time itself burns the bridge out from under their feet.
One thing I initially did not like about the plot is that the holoships are launched toward Crucible with no ability to slow them down. They are relying on human inventiveness to create drive improvements along the way, something that initially seems foolish. As time went on, I came to see this story device as the analogue to, for example, our continuation of industrial civilization in the face of increasing carbon dioxide buildup. We know we ought to stop, but we really don't know how. However, we are confident we'll figure it out--in time.
I read STEEL BREEZE in the British Gollancz edition. The pacing is better than in BLUE EARTH, which suffered from a long slow interlude with elephants near the middle of the book. I highly recommend STEEL BREEZE, and think that as 2013 book it should be given strong consideration for the Hugo. I'll be nominating both it and PROXIMA by Stephen Baxter. [-dls]
THE GLASS BEAD GAME (letter of comment by John Hertz):
In response to Evelyn's comments on mainstream authors writing science fiction in the 11/15/13 issue of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:
At Westercon XV, I was on a "Classics of S-F" panel about THE GLASS BEAD GAME (sometimes published in England as MAGISTER LUDI). Art Widner in the audience talked me into a thousand-word article for YHOS #59, where I observed how masterly it was.
We had another discussion of it at LoneStarCon III. The con website quoted me [as saying,] "The first and for fifty years the only Nobel Prize s-f novel, recently (July 2013) among '100 Greatest Novels Ever' in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY." THE DRINK TANK #352 reprinted my YHOS article. My con report for FILE 770 #163 gave substantial space to this top-notch book we notice so little.
I guess that hasn't changed. [-jh]
Reasons to Be a Luddite (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):
In response to Evelyn's comments on reasons to be a Luddite in the 01/31/14 issue of the MT VOID, Walter Meissner writes:
How about software packages bought because this year's (improved) version was on sale, but all the versions ended up in a box and only one or two were ever installed, never mind actually used.
And every few years the company comes out with a version that is incompatible with the previous (i.e., forced upgrade).
Case in Point: Quicken (for checking accounts)
P.S. Sometimes I wish I could "mine" back all those useless expenditures. [-wm]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (ISBN 978-0-765-32911-0) is full of in-jokes and references, including (but not limited to):
(The references are to "Star Trek", NEUROMANCER, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, FUTURAMA, SNOW CRASH, "Dr. Who", and Nature's Path(?). I particularly like the NEUROMANCER, since it points out how readers under the age of thirty may end up completely misinterpreting the classic opening of William Gibson's novel.)
But there are plenty of ideas as well. For example, at one point a simulation of a character realizes/decides that she is feeling "less rage than /should/ be experiencing"--an oddly analytic perspective on what is considered a very instinctive feeling.
I would like to think there is deep meaning in his being "Instance 639,219", but I cannot find any.
When Jones is asked, "Ms. Jones, do you have a statement for this proceeding?" she responds: "I spent decades of realtime imprisoned in a meatsuit, which betrayed me at every turn. It hurt. It needed sleep. It was slow. It forgot things. It remembered things that didn't happen. And worst of all, it tricked me into thinking that I was nothing without it, that any attempt to escape it would be death. Brains are awful, cheating things. They have gamed the system so that they get all the blood and all the oxygen and all the best calories, and they've convinced us that they're absolutely essential to the enterprise of being an authentic human. But /of course/ they'd say that, wouldn't they? After all, once we take up and realize how fantastically /s**t/ they are, they'll be out of a job! Getting rid of my brain was the most important thing that ever happened to me. It was only once I was running on a more efficient substrate, once I could fork and vary myself and find the instances that made the best choices, once I could remember as much or as little as I cared to, look and feel however I wanted . . . only /then/ was I able to see and feel and /know/ what I'd been missing all those years."
"How can you know that you didn't spring up fully formed, all of these convictions stamped upon you?" could reference either the individual or the entire human race, especially when followed by "even if your little origin myth is true." In the novel, it seems primarily aimed at the individual, but the broader interpretation is known in the real world as "Last Tuesdayism." When creationists claim that when the world was created 6000 years ago, all the evidence that it is much older (fossils, etc.) was created along with it, the response is, "But that same argument can used to say that the world was created last Tuesday, along with all our memories and everything else."
"Helpfiles are traditionally outnumbered by no-help files, which superficially resemble a helpfile in form but not in content because they don't actually tell you anything you don't already know, or they answer every question except the one you're asking, or you open them and a giant animated paper clip leaps out and cheerfully asks where you want to go today." Well, they hit the nail on the head here.
"Every time I take action, it ripples out to all the people who area affected by it, and all the people they affect." If this sounds familiar, it is just re-phrasing the message of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
"The Authority" is an advanced species that "patrols the galaxy to ensure that any species that attempt transcendence are fit to join it. If it finds a species wanting, /pfft!/ It takes care of them before they get to be a problem." Klaatu barada nikto, anyone?
At one point, a character says, "I experience subjective continuity with that Huw, so I think I'm real. But if you're going to require physical continuity, no I'm not: I'm an upload. And even if I hadn't uploaded, if you want true physical continuity, /no/ human being can meet that requirement--never mind our cells, the atoms in our bodies turn over within months to years." This is clearly an on-going question in the philosophy of consciousness and identity. But even subjective continuity is not enough, since unconsciousness (or even sleeping) breaks that continuity. How do we know we are the same person who wakes up in the morning who went to sleep last night? *Are* we the same person who wakes up in the morning who went to sleep last night?
And there is also the artistic explanation of why hard science fiction is more interesting than (say) galactic empires: "Free jazz has its place, but it's interesting only in contrast to the rigid structure in which it is embedded." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. --Sir Winston ChurchillTweet
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