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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/14/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 33, Whole Number 1793
Table of Contents
Real Specialization (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I notice a tanning salon has open near me called "Beach Bum Tanning." I would have thought that was one part of my anatomy that one would not have to tan since most people keep it covered. [-mrl]
Letter to Our Readers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I usually write my column as an article. This time I want to just use an informal letter format. I am a little exhausted from our trip.
Some of you may have noticed that the MT VOID arrived earlier or later than usual the last couple of weeks. We usually have a routine worked out for publishing the MT VOID and it gets mailed about the same time each week. That routine assumes that we are mailing it from our friendly computer in our den in New Jersey. The logistics of sending out the MT VOID are somewhat different when we are traveling. This last couple of weeks the clock was turned around twelve hours since we posted from Cambodia and Viet Nam. Tuesday we got back from a trip to those Southeast Asian countries.
So, how was the trip? Nothing seriously bad happened to us, though we had a lot of minor problems. Maybe I am getting old, but this was a trip that part of me was dreading. I am getting too used to the routine of home life, I guess. Even with a purchased tour for which someone else had organized the trip and was there to keep things running smoothly, there was a lot to worry about before the trip. The first major worry was just getting to our first flight. Most places we fly to we can go from Newark. This one was leaving from JFK Airport in New York. We had to take a limo to the airport and that significantly adds to the cost of the trip.
Whenever we depend on other people there is a possibility for them to not deliver as promised. In this case it would spoil the trip. Whenever we hire a limo I go back to the time at the beginning of a previous trip the driver just failed to show up to pick us up. We eventually called the limo company and the manager told us our driver had had a flat tire, but had not bothered to call in to tell anybody. We had to drive to the airport and leave the car in a lot instead. The manager wanted us to sympathize with him. But here we were in real danger of missing our flight and it was likely he had fouled us up. Under those circumstances I may run a little short of sympathy. If something like that happened this time we would have been in real trouble. Luckily, as I say, nothing bad happened. At least not in getting to the airport.
Evelyn and I did both get sick this trip. I got turista from a mango shake that I had ordered in a supposedly screened and hygienic restaurant. Evelyn caught the cold that was circulating among the tour members. So we both were a little sick together.
Another problem we face is minor panics. Did I put my passport someplace easy to reach? I franticly check my pockets. Yes. Do I have the camera? Another search. Yes, there it is. That sort of thing.
We have assembled so comprehensive a pack list, being so prepared for nearly any emergency, that we pack a heck of a lot of diverse stuff. This means I am constantly losing things in our bags and not finding them again for days. We did not lose a single item this trip but several items went AWOL temporarily. The trip is full of little panics one after another like fearing that I had lost this cable or that cap.
So we are back and already thinking about what trip is next.
We are starting to run low on commonly known majestic archeological sites to visit. We have been to the pyramids of Mexico including Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Teotihuacan. We have seen Egypt with its pyramids and Sphinx and Colossi. We have seen Greek ruins in Turkey. We have been in Machu Picchu. We have climbed the Great Wall of China. We have been in the feudal castles of Japan. Now we have been to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. So now what?
Evelyn is now talking about going to Guatemala. I am afraid she might have some trouble climbing and crawling around ruins after having broken her hip last spring. I don't know if we can put a trip she can travel on together or not. But I have to say she has pluck.
Well, in an upcoming MT VOID I will talk about some of the unusual features of this trip like how I came to eat caterpillars and tarantula meat. I know you are going to *love* that, huh? [-mrl]
The Year of the Repairs (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart, the survivors of the plague name the years rather than number them. So year 7 was the Year of the Lions and Year 20 was the Year of the Earthquake. The last year for me would be the Year of the Repairs.
We can start out with my broken hip in March. It was bad enough, but made more complicated by the fact that my orthopedist went on vacation two days after the operation. This meant that no one could (or would) certify me as ready to proceed to the next step (which was, coincidentally, climbing steps!) in rehab until he got back.
This was nicely (?) bookmarked by my tooth problems in September ... and October ... and ... and November ... and December. It started with my cleaning, which took two trips. As I settled into the chair the first time and was asked about my medical history, I mentioned I had broken my hip. Immediately they asked if I had "pre-medicated." Apparently after major operations or something, people often need to take antibiotics before even a cleaning. I did not recall anyone saying anything about this to me, but the dentist insisted on checking, and naturally there was no one at the orthopedist's office who could give an immediate answer. So I went home without a cleaning, and the next day the orthopedist called the dentist to say no pre-medication was needed! A few days after I had the cleaning, I started having a real toothache. Evidently the cleaning forced a bit of something into an existing abscess. So then I needed root canal work. This took four visits to the endodontist to locate all the canals, and in the middle of it all he got called up for jury duty, which put it all on hold for three weeks. And then the appointment with the dentist for the permanent filling had to be rescheduled because of heavy snow!
One day in May, Mark found water dripping through the ceiling into one of the bedrooms. It turned out the roof had developed a leak. Luckily, it was dripping about a foot to one side of the computer. Also luckily, our home repair guy could come right out and repair the roof, dry the pool of water in the attic, etc.
We also had some large repairs/maintenance on our fifteen-year-old Toyota. Then six months later, we started seeing coolant fluid on the floor of the garage. This turned out to be the coolant overflow tank, luckily a minor repair.
And in the last quarter of last year, technology seemed to be out to get us. First, the dryer door switch conked out, so opening the door did not stop the tumbling. This I could work around by shutting off the dryer before opening the door.
When the washer broke, there was no workaround. It would not spin, so there was nothing to do but bail out all the water, rinse the towels in the sink, and dry them in the crippled dryer. I thought about getting a new washer and dryer, but they had gotten so expensive, we opted for repairs instead.
Our wireless router seems to be getting old, and the Kindle's browser regularly dropped the connection. It could not be just a distance thing, because it happened when I am about six feet from the router. The netbook a few rooms away was a little better, but since the Kindle works fine when I am in the laundromat (see previous paragraph), it had to be the router. We bought a new router--problem solved.
We use Time Machine to back up our Apple. We just installed a 3T drive for this in July. The previous 2T drive lasted two years before filling up, so it was a bit of a shock to see the 3T drive out of space by mid-October, especially since the hard drive is only 300G. I tried a variety of things, including installing a new external drive, but the problem persisted: every few days or so Time Machine would seem to back up the entire user area instead of just what has changed. The result was that instead of backups going back "forever", the Time Machine seemed capable of saving only a few weeks. Semi-solution: The problem seemed to be that it was backing up the 180G iTunes directory every few days. Excluding that from "incremental" backups and backing it up manually every month or so "solves" the problem. In the interim, we ended up buying a 1T drive to help us debug it.
Oh, and the hinge of case of my palmtop broke, so I switched to the backup palmtop. Before I had a chance to send in my palmtop, the backup suddenly developed an "Internal stack error" every time an alarm was set, and the only way to clear it was to remove *all* the batteries for a complete power-down--although after a few times, even that did not bring it back. So I was on the *second* backup while my original got repaired. (How come we to have so many palmtops? At one time, lots of people at work had palmtops. Then they all switched to Palm Pilots, or Blackberries, or something, and because they knew we still used our palmtops, we became the end of the line for them.)
(Actually, when I went back and checked, the backup palmtop seemed okay. Who knows what the problem was?)
PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The second film in the Percy Jackson series has the young demigod, a few friends, and several opponents going off on a new quest for the Golden Fleece. When the story is over it feels like it had the heft of a James Bond film--there's a lot of action in one film. The film is based on a popular young adult novel, and the real star of the film is production designer Claude Pare who creates some beautiful images of monsters and gives the film a great look. The story is all too obviously aimed at a young adult audience complete with a few "life lessons" for the viewer. The film makes for decent entertainment as an above-average action film. It helps to have seen the first film in the series. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS is the second film in the Percy Jackson series, whose premise is that the gods of Ancient Greece were real and are still around today. Percy is a modern boy who finds he is the son of Poseidon. The series tells the on-going story of self-doubting Percy's efforts to stay alive and protect the interests of the gods. As such it has a stronger story arc than the James Bond films, for example. The films so far stand alone, but are better if seen in the proper sequence.
The film begins with a bang with monsters chasing four of the young demigods at Camp Half-Blood. One loses her life and is transformed into a giant pine tree, making the tree part of a barrier that will protect the camp from monsters. The camp is then attacked by a mammoth Colchis Bull apparently made of fire and bronze armor and that is part Transformer. The barrier has not kept out the bull, and the problem is the pine tree has been poisoned leaving the barrier vulnerable. Soon Percy is off on a new quest for the Golden Fleece that has the power to heal the tree and hence fortify the barrier. Among those accompanying Percy is a half-brother he never knew he had and who is a Cyclops. Making a Cyclops look human with one eye is not always easy. The process has progressed since the days of KRULL. We also have a titan depicted as animated stained glass and several other arresting effects.
The story is denser than most action films and may require more than one viewing before it all fits into place. Worry not. The screen images are enough to keep the audience connected with the film, even if occasionally leaving some will try to remember exactly who is who. The real hero of this film is not Percy Jackson but production designer Claude Pare who previously designed the look of the two "Night at the Museum" films and of THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. This film with its various ideas for the looks of monsters probably is his best work. Directing is Thor Freudenthal and the screenplay, perhaps a weak point of the film, was provided by Marc Guggenheim who previously adapted the comic book for the recent GREEN LANTERN. The film shows its roots in films like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and CLASH OF THE TITANS certainly, but there is also some YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, some MEN IN BLACK, and touches from James Bond films.
Some of the most familiar actors involved are Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillon, Anthony Head, and the voices of Sean Bean, Ron Perlman, and Shohreh Aghdashloo of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. At some point it becomes a distraction to put in actors who are too familiar and whose presence pulls the viewer out of the story.
Somehow the film might have been more charming with Ray Harryhausen effects than with CGI, but I would rate PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It is a little patronizing for the script to call demigods instead "half-gods." And to associate mythological monsters with the Bermuda triangle seems a cheap shot.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1854564/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/percy_jackson_sea_of_monsters/
Mini Movie Reviews (film reviews by Art Stadlin):
[Taken from a posting on another mailing list, with permission]
The folks where I currently work are into watching movies. It's a popular topic at the lunch table. So when they mention a movie with a recommendation, I enter it into my "watch list" on my phone. The list is growing faster than I can watch them.
One of the movies they recommended is THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. We were talking about how "slasher" flicks are so "cookie cutter" so to speak, but this one was mentioned as something different. So I found it available on two of the streaming channels I subscribe to. I'd say it *is* a slasher movie, with a science fiction dimension that enters into it. There is one scene that reminded me of The Shining. I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars in the slasher/horror genre. :-)
Saw NEBRASKA in the movie house. Not what I was expecting. Filmed in B&W, and in middle-of-nowhere America, it triggered some memories of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but without the titillation. Worth seeing, at least once. I'd give it 3 of 5 stars.
Saw PHILOMENA in the movie house several weeks ago. Mentioning it since it was in today's news. Seems the Pope authorized a private screening. This is a highly acclaimed movie, based on a true story, about an unwed girl in Ireland who gives birth to a baby that the Nuns took from her and sent to live with a family in America. Philomena goes on a search for her son. Judy Dench has the lead role and nails it. I'd give it 5 of 5 stars.
Watched FAST & FURIOUS 6 on DVD. Yes, I've seen 1 through 5. Not to be out-done, number 6 is high on special effects and over-the-top stunts. Normally I like some good stunts, but when they violate all laws of physics, then I get frustrated. I didn't watch it to see a fake cartoon. I'd give it 3 of 5 stars, mainly on the strength of Vin Deisel and Paul Walker (R.I.P.). [-as]
THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and 2013 SF (letter of comment by Greg Benford):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS in the 02/07/14 issue of the MT VOID, Greg Benford writes:
Your review is exceptionally perceptive. Very good selection of quotes.
How do you rate this novel in the whole compass of 2013 SF? [-gb]
It's hard to say, because it is almost the only novel-length SF (other than alternate history for the Sidewise Award) from 2013 that I have read so far. The only other SF novels are ALIF THE UNSEEN, THE OFFICE OF MERCY, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, RAILSEA, and THE DROWNING GIRL. It's difficult to compare one to another here since they are all over the SF-fantasy spectrum. The fact that I finished all of them says something, since if a book is not working for me, I will give it up. But none were as good as, for example, CAIN by Jose Saramago, a 2011 book that I just got to last year.
By the way, I'll add a note that GREGORY BENFORD, a volume in the "Modern Masters of Science Fiction" series by George Slusser, is now available from the University of Illinois Press. [-ecl]
Sir Thomas More and Puns (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Mark's comments on A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS in the 01/31/14 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
Ref the latest MT VOID: you know that St Thomas More is the patron of condiment, 'cos he's A Man for All Seasons .... in the same way that St Rita is patron of traffic wardens, and St Colman, patron of mustard. [-sl]
Ah, puns. They are considered the lowest form of humor because they make fun of language and language has no feelings to hurt.
And Evelyn adds:
The sobriquet "a man for all seasons" was given to Thomas More most famously by Erasmus, but also a year earlier by Robert Whittington:
"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. He is a man of many excellent virtues; I know not his fellow. For where is the man (in whom is so many goodly virtues) of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability, and as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity--a man for all seasons." --Robert Whittington, Vulgaria, 1520
"omnibus omnium horarum homo" ["a man for all seasons and all men"] --Erasmus, Letter to Guillaume Bude, 1521
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As usual, in preparation for our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I did some preliminary reading. Since we had visited Vietnam before, I concentrated more on Cambodia.
PHNOM PENH: A CULTURAL HISTORY by Milton Osborne (ISBN 978-0-19-534248-2) is good when he sticks to describing Phnom Penh, but less clear when he describes various books (fiction and non-fiction) dealing with the period he is covering. It is especially confusing when he is describing books which are unavailable in English. Osborne's decision to focus on Phnom Penh has of necessity made it very limited, because most books about Cambodia are either about the entire country, or focus heavily on Angkor Wat. (And in fact, of the books I found, three focused entirely on Angkor.) It is also true that the majority of the books about Cambodia available today are primarily about the Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot era rather than a full historical view of the city.
ANGKOR by Dawn Rooney (ISBN 978-962-217-683-6) and ANCIENT ANGKOR by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques (ISBN 978-974-8225-27-5) are 2003 guidebooks to the ruins at Angkor Wat. The latter is a much fancier one and the one that all the vendors try to sell you in Cambodia. What they are selling is a pirated copy, of course, for about $6 instead of $28, but it is printed on the same sort of high-quality paper. One sign of growing prosperity, I suppose, is that the pirated books in Southeast Asia are no longer cheap copies on thin paper with bad reproduction. I got both of these used in the United States, so I could compare the quality and there is not much difference. In fact, the best way to tell is that the ISBN block on the back of the bootleg looks a little blurry.
Both books are good guides to the ruins; if you were going to get one, I think the vendors are right: Freeman and Jacques is nicer.
ANGKOR: HEART OF AN ASIAN EMPIRE by Bruno Dagens (ISBN 978-0-8109-2801-5) is more a history of the archaeology of Angkor Wat than a guidebook to the complex, and the illustrations consist of the drawings, engravings, sketches, and paintings of the time of the explorers. The actual works written by the explorers would have been more interesting than just the brief excerpts here, but many are out of print and in any case I would not have time for all of them. Dagens does make the point at the beginning that to say the ruins were "discovered" by various Western explorers is inaccurate; the Khmer knew they were there all along.
THE ART OF SOUTHEAST ASIA by Philip Rawson (ISBN 978-0-500-20060-5) is a standard work and a more general overview of all the art of the region, which includes Thailand, Laos, and Burma as well as Cambodia and Vietnam.
I had hoped to read Geoff Ryman's historical novel THE KING'S LAST SONG (ISBN isbn), but did not have a chance before the trip. I did see a real copy in the Siem Reap airport for about $18, but oddly enough, no one seemed to be selling pirated versions on the streets. :-) (I guess it is a sign that your book has become a classic when pirated versions are sold.)
For the record, the books I read for Vietnam--all for the last trip--were the Lonely Planet VIETNAM, the Insight Guide VIETNAM, WORLD FOOD: VIETNAM (also Lonely Planet), and Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN. The latter was marketed widely on the streets in pirated copies in 2001 but the whole street book vendor system seems to have disappeared from Vietnam in the intervening years.
And speaking of the book shop system in Vietnam, in 2001 in the Pham Ngu Lao section of Saigon (where all the backpackers' hotels and cafes were), there were a lot of sidewalk book dealers. Each book was wrapped in plastic, whether to protect it from rainstorms or to prevent browsing wasn't clear. These were all books aimed at tourists--novels in English (mostly), French, and German; Lonely Planet guides; etc. Some were used, and some were "new," but the "new" ones were all pirated editions. One book had a cover that looked used, with creases and such, but when we looked closer, that was because they had photocopied it from a used copy! And they had set the pages out of order in the first signature! This would explain why the selection of books was so similar from stall to stall, and indeed they seemed to be replenished by people bringing in stacks a meter high of the same assortment. These folks also wandered in the various cafes trying to sell you books while you were eating. Standard price was a couple of dollars for a book, with smaller ones like the LP Vietnamese Phrasebook cheaper.
But as I noted, all this seems to have disappeared. Now there are ordinary bookstores, although many of these still sell pirated versions of books. (The airport shops seem to sell more legitimate copies, or maybe they just charge higher prices.)
In Hoi An, the three used bookshops I listed in 2001 are gone, and indeed there seem to be no used book shops or exchanges left. This may be a function of e-books: travelers just are not carrying paper books on trips that they want to exchange for other paper books. There are a couple of stores that sell books and DVDs, but the emphasis is on the latter. Needless to say, these are pirated as well. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Better not take a dog on the space shuttle, because if he sticks his head out when you're coming home his face might burn up. --Jack HandyTweet
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