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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/16/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 46, Whole Number 1806
Table of Contents
Context Is Everything (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just don't understand myself. I like latkes (potato pancakes) a lot, particularly but not necessarily with apple sauce. I really like the crispiness. I realized some years back that just about everything I like about them I can get in Burger King hash browns. I am not all that keen on Burger King hash browns, but I get them in entirely a different context. So why don't I have more affection for Burger King hash browns? [-mrl]
Trailer Park Returns (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the old days, which were really not all that long ago, one of the joys of going to the World Science Fiction Convention was that the film distributors would send trailers of their upcoming films that they thought would be of interest to science fiction fandom. The program would be called "Trailer Park". I guess it was a place where trailers could be "parked" and then shown to the fans. For many of us this was the first time we were hearing of some of the films that were coming out. I can remember seeing the trailer for a film called ED WOOD. I did not expect a lot from the film, but I said right there that Martin Landau would get an Academy Award nomination for playing Bela Lugosi. Actually he got the Oscar itself. The trailer for GATTACA looked like a made-for-television scare film. It later turned out to be one of the best science fiction films of the 1990s. I used to write a commentary on the film trailers I had seen.
I have not been to a Trailer Park in years, but a lot of trailers are available on-line so I will make my own trailer park using a list of the summer science fiction published by io9.com. Here is what I see coming up in the next few weeks. You can read my remarks and then see the actual trailer with the links provided. So as not to let this article go too long I cover only releases through June 6.
[I will excuse myself from watching a GODZILLA trailer. I want to see the film having seen as little publicity as possible.]
List of films: http://tinyurl.com/mtv-summer
THE DOUBLE (May 9)
Already in minimal release is this updating of a story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, though the trailer has more the feel of Franz Kafka. Simon (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is a nearly nameless functionary in a government job. That would be bad enough but the same agency hires James who looks identical to Simon but has a social life and a personality. Having an identical twin becomes a mixed blessing. James can give Simon advice on the opposite sex, but soon they apparently have a weird falling out. Simon and James are both played by Jesse Eisenberg.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (May 23)
This film features Wolverine in a story involving time travel. From the trailer I pick up that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman whom elsewhere was Jean Valjean) has been sent fifty years into the past to the 1970s to bring a message from somebody to his fifty-year- younger self. This mission deals with stopping somethings called "the Seminals." They apparently are robotic killing machines that were intended to kill mutants but--gosh darn it--are targeting mutant and non-mutant alike. There are a lot of comic-book films and they seem to still be making big profits, but I expect that they will at some point overstay their welcome. People will get used to the better writing of television series like GAME OF THRONES and will tire of the sameness of comic book themes.
MALEFICENT (May 30)
The Broadway and West End musical "Wicked"--seeing Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch--did really well and Disney is apparently looking at their back material to see what can be the source for films. Maleficent was the villain of "Sleeping Beauty" and Disney Films will be similarly showing her side of the story. Disney is gambling that SLEEPING BEAUTY is as beloved as THE WIZARD OF OZ. I am not so sure. In any case they appear to be retelling the fairy tale capturing the look in live action. Angelina Jolie will take the title role and has artificial REALLY high cheekbones. The trailer is certainly reminiscent of the original animated film artwork. But the whole film feels like a "me-too" copy. Then again, Disney Studios by now knows how to do their old work in live-action.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (June 6)
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are apparently soldiers fighting the same battle over and over again until they figure how to win it. It sounds a lot like a video game and even more like GROUNDHOG DAY. The special effects in the trailer look exquisite like maybe only twenty or thirty other films opening this summer. The trailer starts out with Cruise trying to tell someone that what he has to say sounds crazy but the people he talks to have to listen. Sound like the X-MEN trailer? That coincidence makes the writing looks even more derivative than we were expecting. These films seem designed to show off Cruise, who does look good for his age, but who cares?
THE SACRAMENT (June 6)
Ti West (who made the low-budget horror films THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and THE INNKEEPERS (2011)) does a horror story that looks like it could almost be true. A magazine sends a film crew to visit Eden Parish, a Christian utopia. I have to say that I personally like films of religious zealotry gone awry, especially TICKET TO HEAVEN (1981) and the more recent MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011). This one may have limited appeal because it is yet another found-footage film.
RIGOR MORTIS (June 6)
I cannot tell a lot from the trailer except that there is a lot of horrific action and a lot of subtitles ripped away too fast. Apparently the story has to do with Chinese hopping ghosts who have something to do with vampires. Normally the two don't mix, in spite of the fact that the film MR. VAMPIRE was really about a hopping ghost. The trailer seems to involve both. Actually a hopping ghost is a ghost who still has a soul (or "po"). The newly dead person walks at night, or rather is too stiff to walk so he hops. Somehow I find that too often these Hong Kong films will have a good first two acts, but they try to pack too much action into the final reel. Still, I bet this will be a film worth seeing.
That about covers the next month. Let me know if you like this sort of guide. [-mrl]
THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch (copyright 2006, Bantam Spectra, $7.99, 566pp, ISBN 978-0-553-58894-1) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
If you're reading this, you probably already know my dad, Joe Karpierz, who's been writing book reviews for the MT VOID for as long as I can remember. Well, I'm about to graduate with a creative writing degree, and I'm throwing down the glove. Let's duel.
I thought I would introduce myself by fawning over one of my favorite books in the entire world, THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. This book is about what I can best describe as "high-class con men outsmarting the hell out of everyone else." That's actually what this whole series is about: the Gentleman Bastards, a group of orphans brought together under a con artist priest who teaches them to live the high life while pretending not to. I ... I could go into more detail, but really, that's it, distilled down to its most perfect essence.
What do I talk about first in describing the masterpiece that is THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA? How do I encompass all of it without writing a review as long as this book? (And it is a long book. More than 700 pages. Worth it.) Should I begin with the world, the characters, the style? I'm not sure I'm qualified to talk about the characters without dissolving into unintelligible raving, since it is impossible not to love them. They are just ... magnificent. Have I used the word magnificent yet in this review? I intend to use it several more times. Each of these characters is impossibly compelling. I might be a little in love with the Sanza twins--but I am /definitely/ in love with Locke Lamora. But, see, I'm not in love with them because they're perfect and beautiful people. They're pretty much not. They steal for fun, they're not pretty, they swear a lot--and they're /incredibly/ witty and inventive and resourceful and /brilliant/. Each one has their own specialties and pasts, and they use what they're given to them. They acknowledge their flaws and are utterly hilarious about it.
"My name," said Locke Lamora, "is /Lukas Fehrwight/... I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in several minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also," he said with a hint of ponderous regret, "I am entirely fictional."
"I'm very sorry to hear that, Master Fehrwight," said Calo...
"My attendant will be along any moment," Locke/Fehrwight said as he/they stepped aboard the barge. "His name is /Graumann/, and he too suffers from a slight case of being imaginary."
"Merciful gods," said Calo, "it must be catching."
So what next? The world. The /world/. I am utterly boggled by the world that Lynch has created here. It's so unbelievably in- depth ... on top of being, yes, magnificent. First, there was this strange alien civilization. We don't really know anything about them except that they are called the Eldren, they built these entirely spectacular cities made of Elderglass--which is phenomenally gorgeous and does not break, among other things - and they left long before the people. But see, Lynch doesn't stop there. That wasn't the only thing that happened in this world before the story. There's /history/ here, whole swathes of past. The Therin Throne, the wars and rebellions, an intricate web of city locales with their own anecdotes, rules and laws and rumors, everything. Lynch could write volumes of history for his own world. (Maybe he has. I wouldn't know.)
I will let this lead into one tiny qualm I have with this book: /occasionally/ he tells us a /little too much/. Just a little. Most of the time, I love exploring the world with him, but sometimes, the interludes are infinitesimally out of place, and yank me out of the tale. For example: I will never quite agree with the addition of the handball narrative, which is an amusing interjection with a justifiable reason for being included ... but it's still pretty unnecessary. Counterexample: the story of the fall of the Therin Throne is obviously a perfect foundation to explain to us the utter lunacy in Locke's subsequent actions.
It would, admittedly, be nice if these things were woven in a little more. I like subtle but not obscure foreshadowing, but these interludes aren't really integrated. Either we have these completely blunt interjections, or we have absolutely no way of being able to guess what's going to happen. There were really no clues to allow us to guess at the Gray King's identity or motivations, and even reading this for the fourth time, I had no idea what was going to happen, because there just aren't any clues to remind me. Even looking for them, there aren't any.
Okay, so this book isn't /one-hundred percent/ perfect. It has flaws, like its characters. That probably makes it better. It's still /at least/ 97% perfect. Moving on.
The hour of Falselight had come.
From the heights of the Five Towers to the obsidian smoothness of the vast glass breakwaters, to the artificial reefs beneath the slate-colored waves, Falselight radiated from every surface and every shard of Elderglass in Camorr, from every speck of the alien material left so long before by the creatures that had first shaped the city. Every night, as the west finally swallowed the sun, the glass bridges would become threads of firefly light; the glass towers and glass avenues and the strange glass sculpture-gardens would shimmer wanly with violet and azure and orange and pearl white, and the moons and stars would fade to gray.
I will never not be in love with the Elderglass. It is beyond intriguing - and additionally, it is described with such loving detail. But the thing about Lynch's style is that it is a beautiful--dare I say, /magnificent/--amalgam of description and ... well, not description. He could bog us down in describing every single thing in exquisite detail, but he doesn't. He describes some things, which are gorgeous and intricate and meticulously-depicted--but then he also lets things /happen/, lets perfect dialogue flow, lets action surround the description. I /want/ him to describe things to me in glorious illumination. Then I want him to move on. And he does. And the suspense! Lynch is fantastic at suspense, especially in the beginning.
Perhaps I should also spare a moment for the plot. The plot! It does /not/ fall down on the job of supporting the rest of the phenomena of this book. There are a couple plots that weave together beautifully, starting with an intricately planned theft and devolving into /heart-rending agony/, revenge stories, and Locke Lamora/the Gentleman Bastards /outsmarting the hell out of everyone else/. Because they are that fabulous.
Reading these books fills me with the strange paradoxical emotions of wanting to /write immediately/ and knowing that I should /never write again/ because I can never create anything an /eighth/ of the brilliance Locke's schemes. I am actually convinced that Lynch must be a criminal mastermind himself. How else would his characters be able to imagine such /inconceivable solutions/ to such /inconceivable problems/?
In summary: I love this book too much.
Revised summary: If you haven't read this book, your life is an /empty, yawning abyss/ and you will not realize what poor life choices you have made until you /rectify this immediately/. [-gmk]
AS HIGH AS THE SKY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Nikki Braendlin writes and directs a film that tells us being alone can be an act of fate, but getting a family can be an act of choice. Abandoned by her fiancé, Margaret lives mechanically to care for her fancy home. When her sister and niece come unannounced for a short visit Margaret's life is in for change. This is a bittersweet story of loneliness and family relationships. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This is a bittersweet story of family relationships going wrong and going right. Margaret (played by Caroline Fogarty) was devastated when the man she was engaged to for three years suddenly broke off their relationship. It seems to have ripped out her emotions. Now she lives without apparent feeling with her only real companion being the fabulous house and garden she cares for meticulously as if it took the place of the husband and possible child she expected to have. Using this dull but disciplined lifestyle as a surrogate for family, she lives like the living dead and seems to be the least qualified person to do her job, planning fun parties for others. Her social life seems to be long phone conversations with two boring aunts.
Then Margaret's sister Josephine (Bonnie McNeil) who has a nearly opposite personality and her daughter Hannah (Laurel Porter) come for an unannounced visit. Margaret sadly watches her sister and niece. They have more a friendship than a mother-daughter relationship. But Hannah does not at all like her Aunt Margaret. More family--more people close to care about--is just what Margaret needs. Margaret decides to win over her niece, little expecting that Josephine is holding back a secret that will change her relationship.
All of the speaking roles are women's roles. The three main actresses, Fogarty, McNeil, and Porter take naturally to their parts. Porter is a little prickly as a twelve-year-old is likely to be. Her acting reminds one of Amara Miller from THE DESCENDENTS (2011) and she goes through a similar evolution. Caroline Fogarty's flaming red hair almost belies her timid and brittle personality. Her sister, played by Bonnie McNeil, is the kind of mother who makes life exciting as she seems always anxious to take a bite out of life.
AS HIGH AS THE SKY is Nikki Braendlin's first produced screenplay and her first time as director. She also has a credit as executive producer. The budget has been kept low by mostly filming in just one house. And it is a beautiful house. The idea that a party planner is sufficiently successful to be able to afford such a house leads one to wonder just what actually goes on at the sort of parties that Margaret plans. The house has a very pleasant color scheme of pastel blues and oranges that extend to Margaret's wardrobe. She almost fades into the background.
Braendlin's film gives us three women who find they have to weather and adapt to very different sets of changes to their lives. It takes a while but they become endearing. I rate AS HIGH AS THE SKY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. So far the film has mostly played at film festivals but was released on DVD on May 6, 2014, and will be released to VOD on June 6.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2119383/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/as_high_as_the_sky/>i [-mrl]
Genealogy and DNA (letter of comment by Steve Milton):
In response to Greg Frederick's comments on genealogy and DNA in the 05/09/14 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:
My wife discovered she is distantly related (on her Mother's side) to about 40% of Laplanders (Sami MtDNA (female) haplotype U5b1) which is quite interesting since none of her ancestors are Scandanavian. [-smm]
Meat, Hugo Comments, and Freebie Books (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 05/09/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Once again I thank you for the latest VOID, which certainly fills the weekly hole in my email account. A couple quick comments are in order, naturally. [-jp]
In response to Mark's comments on meat, John writes:
Bouncing around a bit here, I am definitely an omnivore since I'll eat pretty much anything, but I do enjoy eating meat. Probably too much, I'm afraid. Discovery Channel's Andrew Zimmern would be my choice for patron saint of food: Adam Richman is obviously the patron saint of gluttony. [-jp]
I also eat just about anything including spider. I have, however given up on octopus because it is amazingly intelligent and has an interesting personality. [-mrl]
In response to James Nicoll's comments on the Hugo nominees, John writes:
The comments about gender parity in the Hugo Awards make sense to me since there are certainly a lot more women writers and artists today. So I'm not surprised except that of all the people I'd consider sexist, SF fans would not be my first choice. Then again, maybe chauvinistic habits born of societal training are hard to break. We people are such products of our environments. [-jp]
And in closing, John writes:
I've been reading the freebie books I picked up at LoneStarCon 3 and reviewing them in my perzine ASKEW. So far the quality is hit or miss: of the three read so far one was enjoyable but predictable, another pretty good for yet another vampire novel, and the third one (a modern horror) dull and poorly paced. So it goes. [-jp] And so goes this loc. Slow going on a cellphone, too. Oh, well. Such is how it goes these days. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
IMAGINED COMMUNITIES: REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF NATIONALISM by Benedict Anderson (ISBN 978-0-86091-546-1) is a 1991 revision of an earlier edition. In the original 1983 introduction, he talks about the nationalization of Marxist movements, as reflected in conflicts between two nations, both of which are Marxist and hence would be presumed to be allies. "Who can be confident that Yugoslavia and Albania will not one day come to blows?" By 1991, most of the Marxist regimes he mentions are no longer Marxist, and Yugoslavia was in the process of destroying itself as a single nation. While in the preface to the new edition the author recognizes his lack of foresight in the collapse of the USSR, the revision was probably written too early to recognize that Yugoslavia was destined for the same result.
And as proof that hindsight is always better, Anderson wrote of the paradox of "the formal universality as a socio-cultural concept--in the modern world, everyone can, should, will 'have' a nationality, as he or she 'has' a gender." In 1983, or even perhaps 1991, the universality of gender as a descriptor was still thought by most to be a given. Today, it seems as outdated as the idea that someone has a specific race.
Anderson's premise seems to be that many (most?) nationalist movements are based around a vernacular language, or more specifically, a written vernacular language. But this seems less based on the language per se and more on the ability to use the written vernacular language to arouse a nationalist sentiment.
Anderson relates one incident that is one of those "what were they thinking?" incidents. In 1913, the Dutch decided to celebrate the centennial of the "national liberation" of the Netherlands from French imperialism. So the Dutch colonial government in Batavia (Netherlands East Indies) decreed that they too would celebrate it- -not just the Dutch community, but also the native population. Not surprisingly, Indonesian nationalists jumped onto this, pointing out to the apparently clueless colonial government that 1) a people held in subjection to Dutch imperialism might not be that enthusiastic about Dutch independence from France, and 2) a people held in subjection to Dutch imperialism might take inspiration from the Dutch gaining independence from France, and decide to get their own independence.
THE ART OF THE MOVING PICTURE by Vachel Lindsay (ISBN 978-0-375- 75613-9) is said to be the first book of film criticism. The problem is that almost all the films Lindsay discusses are unknown today (and quite possibly lost). One thing that remains is his division of films into three categories, which he says are analogous to painting, sculpture, and architecture. We have the intimate drama, based on characterization--that's painting. We have the action film--that's sculpture. And we have the epic-- that's architecture.
Lindsay puts forth the radical notion that films should not have a musical accompaniment, but rather that theaters should promote conversation among the audience during the film! However, he does say that if sound films ever get to a naturalistic level (rather than the very primitive experiments in sound films in 1915, which consisted mostly of playing a record to go along with the film), he would change his mind.
The only other comment I have is that where we say that a character is "played" by an actor, Lindsay says they were "impersonated" by someone. Every time I read this, I think that the actor is somehow claiming to be someone else with malicious intent.
In further Hugo Award news, the "Hugo Packet" is still not ready, but at least three of the five current-year novel nominees will *not* be in the packet.
"This year, Orbit--the publisher of Mira Grant's 'Parasite', Ann Leckie's 'Ancillary Justice', and Charles Stross's 'Neptune's Brood'--have decided that for policy reasons they can't permit the shortlisted novels to be distributed for free in their entirety. Instead, substantial extracts from the books will be included in the Hugo voters packet."
Now my comments:
It should be noted that the three authors (Charles Stross, Anne Leckie, and Mira Grant) have expressed their unhappiness with this decision.
Actually, the packet is most useful to the serious Hugo voter for the other categories, especially the related book and fan categories. Traditionally, the short fiction has been hard to find, though as everything goes electronic, it should theoretically become easier.
John Scalzi's and Charles Stross's blogs contain the authors' joint statement, as well as lots of comments. Culled from these comments is the information that many people were led to believe that if they bought a Supporting Membership, that would include all the novels, and that a *thousand* Supporting Memberships have been sold since the Hugo slate was announced. Several of these people have said (in the comments) that they bought the membership to get the "Wheel of Time" but had hoped to get the other novels to see what they were like. However, they would probably not get them separately, which could lead to a lot of ballots with a vote for "Wheel of Time" and nothing else in the Novel category (or any other category except maybe Dramatic Presentations). This would have two effects: "Wheel of Time" would win for Novel because the other works were not available (a thousand first-place votes go a long way), and some categories might be eliminated entirely this year because of the rule that any category must be voted for on at least 25% of the total ballots submitted. Stay tuned for further developments.
I have not heard anything about what, if anything, from the Retro Hugo ballot will be in the packet, and I am curious about that since some of the short fiction has only been reprinted once or twice in hard-to-find books. (The good news is that I think four of the five Dramatic Presentations can be included; traditionally none of the DPs get included.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. --Sir Winston ChurchillTweet
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