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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/18/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 3, Whole Number 1815
Table of Contents
Dealing in Science Fiction Classics at Readercon:
Forbes Magazine has an article--with photos--covering the Dealers Room at Readercon:
21 Jokes So Clever You Probably Won't Understand Them (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got 20 of the jokes and liked all 21. Thanks to Joe Presley who posted the link to Facebook. [-mrl]
The V-2 Missile Was a Huge Mistake (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think the one aspect (two aspects?) of World War II that strobed my sense of wonder the most were the so-called V-1 and V-2 flying bombs. My interest in science fiction extended to rockets and missiles as sort of proto-spaceships. I thought the look and design of the V-1 was exciting. There was just something nifty about the look of the V-1 with that engine looking like a cannon held up a foot or so above the fuselage of the missile.
But the V-2 was the real gobsmacker. It actually looked like a spaceship. In fact, in cheap 1950s films they frequently used footage from V-2 launches to stand in for spaceship launches. And it was the forerunner of real spaceships to come. I was impressed with a sense of wonder when I saw launch pictures of V-2s. And I probably was not alone among science fiction fans. The classic science fiction anthology of the time was ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE by Healy and McComas. It was all science fiction stories but for one science fact article "V-2: Rocket Cargo Ship" by Willy Ley. (Just as an aside everybody knows it as the V-2 short for "Vergeltungswaffe 2", meaning "Vengeance Weapon 2", but its real non-propaganda name was the A-4 or "Aggregat 4.")
What I never realized until recently was what a huge blunder the entire German rocket program had been. In its favor, the V-2 did a lot of damage and did challenge English morale. Unlike the V-1 there was no way it could possibly be intercepted by the RAF. There was no warning before people were hit by the bomb. The V-1 you would hear making a sort of buzz. And when that buzz cut out suddenly it meant that the propulsion had turned off. That was when you were in trouble. With the V-2 and you were in a certain radius you would never know what had hit you or that you were even hit. It sounds like a good weapon. In fact, it was worse at the sending end than at the receiving end.
I am not talking about the fact that far more people were killed in production of the V-2 than were killed directly by the missile, though. About 2500 people were killed by the bomb in London and estimates range from 12,000 to 25,000 slave laborers killed in production of the V-2. The Third Reich probably did not consider that as any great cost, though for once the Germans were not calling on Jews for the dangerous tasks. There were Jews with technical knowledge that would have been useful, but the Nazis supposedly were afraid to let Jews anywhere near their secret weapon.
A major drawback of the two guided missiles, V-1 and V-2, is that they were only so much guided. The missiles mostly could hit London, but they were not accurately guided to their intended destination. Dropping a one-ton bomb on a teashop was of limited strategic value to the Germans. There was nowhere near the precision needed to hit government buildings. On the other hand London is a big place, and if you are not really picky about precision bombing special targets then you will find a city the size of London is hard to miss.
The only hope for hitting really strategic buildings would be to send enough missiles and to hope. Werner von Braun had promised the missile could be made really effective, but it turned out to be a case of too little available too late in the war. A better missile or a much earlier availability could have made a lot of difference.
And a V-2 could carry one ton of bombs. It had the advantage over the B-17 bomber in that it did not require a crew being sent over enemy territory, but a B-17 could carry six tons of explosives to multiple targets. A B-17 could do the destruction of six V-2 missiles and probably be more precise in the bargain. What is more, there is a pilot there to report where the bombs fell. A pilot could do that, a missile could not. Facing the V-1 menace earlier, the British had maintained a news blackout on reports of V-1 bombs hitting just over the coast and near the water. When the news got back to Germany and there were reports of bombs dropping only inland the Germans assumed they were somehow overshooting and the V-1 needed to be re-aimed lower. A lot of missiles ended falling harmlessly in the water short of the coast because of the disinformation.
The V-2 would have been a lot more effective if it could have airburst. But there was no proximity fuse so that it would know it was at the right altitude. Instead, it would not explode until the nose of the missile came to a sudden stop, like against a building or a road.
Now comes the kicker. The V-1 and V-2 were expensive. One V-2 launch required distilling the alcohol of 33 tons of potatoes. There were Germans starving. Both the Germans and the Allies had their super-secret mammoth weapons development projects. The Allies had the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons. That effort cost $1.9 billion. The Germans had their guided missile program culminating in the V-1 and the V-2 missiles. The price tag there was $3 billion.
It makes on wonder if our side won the war of if the other side just lost it for themselves.
Information for this article was gleaned from several locations. (Thank you Google.) Primary sources were the Wikipedia article on the V-2 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-2#Assessment) and "Werner von Braun's Pact with the Devil", an interview with Michael J. Neufeld from WORLD WAR II MAGAZINE, December 2007. [-mrl]
The Hugo Nominations for Best Dramatic Presentation 2014 (screed, diatribe, and ramble by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
The 2014 Long From Dramatic Presentation nominations form a pretty solid list, as has often been the case in recent years. I've seen four of the five nominees, and liked all of them. I'm disappointed that EUROPA REPORT was not nominated, of course. FROZEN is a simply excellent animation, and may well win. Partially a retelling of the Phoenix Saga from the X-Men, and partially an upended Disney animation, there are plenty of surprises, a good bit of fun, and a surprisingly sharp edge that makes us all want to "Let it Go!" I've reviewed GRAVITY elsewhere, and it's well worth seeing, albeit a white-knuckle thrill ride that may just be too involving for some. I've seen PACIFIC RIM recently on Blu-ray, and it is a wonder to behold visually, as well as a decent SF story, giant robots notwithstanding. IRON MAN 3 is perhaps the weakest of the nominees, and suffers from having too much of everything, but with Ben Kingsley as "The Mandarin" there are thrills and surprises galore. I've heard good things about CATCHING FIRE, and I look forward to seeing it. Right now I'm having a hard time choosing between FROZEN and GRAVITY for my #1 pick, but that's not a bad thing.
The 2014 Short Form Dramatic Presentation nominees are the usual discouraging list of "Dr. Who" episodes (four!!! four!!!) and two other nominees. We live in a Golden Age of TV SF, with perhaps a half-dozen or more Hugo-quality shows, and yet Worldcon members persist in treating the short form like it was the "Best Dr. Who Episode" award. My plea is simple--JUST DON'T VOTE FOR ANY DR. WHO EPISODES IN 2014. ORPHAN BLACK is excellent TV SF that I have reviewed elsewhere. Vote it #1 whether you've seen it or not. Or if you prefer, vote "The Rains of Castamere" from GAME OF THRONES #1 and ORPHAN BLACK #2. It's hard to say whether "Rains" is the best GOT episode this year, but there can be little doubt that GOT is one of the top five, and probably top three, SF/fantasy shows on TV today. There also can be little doubt that ORPHAN BLACK is of the same quality. The SF TV show that *really* deserved a nomination but did not get one is the excellent and getting better CONTINUUM. This system of nominating episodes of a series is really horrific. We ought to see five nominations for five different SF TV shows every year instead of three to four "Dr. Who" episodes and one or two examples of other items that often turn out to be obscure fan-centered shorts. Far from bringing attention to the best SF TV shows, the "Short Form" Hugo shines a spotlight on "Dr. Who" episodes and obscure one shots that appeal to a narrow slice of Worldcon fans but find virtually no interest anywhere else.
So, in summary, GAME OF THRONES and ORPHAN BLACK--GOOD!!!! Don't vote for the Dr. Who episodes!!! And catch up on CONTINUUM--it just finished a great third season. [-dls]
PARTICLE FEVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Back in the 1960s people could appreciate and enjoy scientific accounts of the space program even if they did not understand all the technicalities. PARTICLE FEVER is a science documentary for our time. The viewer does not need to have a scientific background to appreciate and enjoy this account of scientists trying to uncover the secrets of fundamental particles that could lead to a better understanding of the universe and its origins. The film follows six of the 10,000 scientists working for several years at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. They are trying to capture and find the mass of the Higgs Boson particle. For once we have a rarity, a documentary that is not depressing and not even overly political. Instead it suggests looking at the universe with a real sense of wonder. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
The Large Hadron Collider is the center of the largest, most expensive scientific project with the greatest number of people participating of any scientific endeavor in history. The experiment is going on at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). The particle collider it has built is underground right under the border between France and Switzerland not far from Geneva. More than 10,000 scientists and engineers were required to design, build, and interpret output from it. This staff came from more than 100 different countries. The collider itself is a circle as near perfect as it is possible to make it, and it is a circle 17 miles in circumference. Particles going clockwise and counterclockwise are accelerated to near the speed of light and then directed in each others path to collide shattering each other breaking into many smaller particles so the contents of the larger particles can be analyzed better understood. By colliding these particles the accelerator somehow (I admit I am not sure how) recreates conditions just after the Big Bang.
Director Mark Levinson, once himself a particle physicist at Berkeley and now a filmmaker tells the story of five years at CERN as few filmmakers have the background, the understanding, and the clarity to tell. The film covers the years from 2008 when the collider was first turned on to 2012 when the Higgs Boson was finally isolated and its mass found. The Higgs Boson is believed to be the particle that holds matter together and that gives other particles mass. Knowing the mass of the Higgs Boson may tell us whether a multiverse model of the universe is true or if the competing supersymmetry model is correct. Each theory predicts a different mass for the Higgs Boson, so it would be extremely valuable to isolate one in order to observe the mass.
Levinson's film follows six scientists and the ups and downs of the huge job of preparing for the experiment and then collecting an analyzing the data from the experiment. With frequent interviews in a variety of accents they tell the viewer what they are doing. One gets the feeling that particle physicists are people much like us except that they seem to drink more coffee. To keep this story moving apace the editor is Walter Murch who edited films like GHOST (1990), the 1998 re-edit of TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999). Here he gives the film pacing and creates genuine suspense even in viewers who cannot appreciate the implications of the results.
So what does all this effort add up to? What will understanding the Higgs Boson do for humanity? Nobody in the world knows. Whatever is discovered, it will have literally cosmic implications. This is pure science, not applied. One can never know what applications this sort of knowledge can lead to. But most practical science started out with just looking for scientific truth. This is a film that feeds the imagination and is the most exciting documentary so far in 2014. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. I have to say that being a lover of mathematics and science fiction the dichotomy of boson mass implications appeals to me. A multi-verse, an infinite set of parallel universes, appeals to my science fiction side. Supersymmetry appeals to the math maven in me. Either discovery would be exciting.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385956/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/particle_fever/
For more information start with http://tinyurl.com/mrl-BigBang
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: With a story that asks once again "why can't we all get along?" we have the special-effects-laden account of human epidemic survivors coming into conflict with apes of human-level intelligence. More intelligence and less fighting could have made this a better film. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the second film in Fox's reboot of their Planet of the Apes series. The first series had CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES followed by BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The sounds out of order to me. If the planet were conquered why would there still be a battle for it? Here again we have RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) followed by DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014). Are we to believe the planet rose before dawn?
The newest chapter starts where the coda in the credits of the last film left off. The Simian Flu virus is spreading around the world. The virus is deadly to most humans but makes apes more intelligent. Flash forward ten years and we learn a few humans were genetically immune to the virus. They have been through a holocaust left to the imagination and perhaps sadly never depicted. Meanwhile a society of good solid salt-of-the-earth super-apes are living in Muir Woods not far from the Golden Gate Bridge whose high towers they climb so gracefully. They use the bridge towers as a sentry point to defend their colony.
The apes are led by Caesar (played Andy Serkis made with motion capture to look like an ape with human facial expressions). The apes do not even believe that any humans survived the virus until a handful of them show up in their woods. It seems that some of the human survivors have set up a small community in what used to be San Francisco. With permission to go through the ape-controlled wood they could get to the hydroelectric dam and provide power to local humans and, incidentally, apes. Getting along together, humans and apes, would be a win-win situation, but peace between species is a delicate thing and an unstable equilibrium.
I have to admit that I ruined this film for myself. From very early on in the film I started seeing the story of a well-intentioned but didactic 1950s Western. You have the settlers and the cavalry on one side and the Native Americans on the other. You have a bunch of people on each side trying to bring peace and you have troublemakers and you have troublemakers on both sides trying to stir people up so they will fight. Seeing the film in that light shows off every cliche and there are a lot. And if the viewer does not pick up on the Native American parallels the ape fighters even wear war paint. Seen from that light this may be a cutting edge science fiction film, but it is one with a Western plot that was worn out fifty years ago.
The big attraction of *RISE* OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was Caesar, an ape with human and hence readable expressions. That took him a long way in winning the audience sympathy. In *DAWN* OF THE PLANET OF THE APES his expression is again readable. It just is no fun. His face is a constant scowl. He has been frequently mistreated by humans, and it looks like that experience has made him mean. But he is really just the care-worn but wise leader of the apes. Koba (Toby Kebbell) a human-scarred bonobo is the real angry ape. These two apes, and most of the others, are dark in personality. Like the film in general, the forest dwellers are solemn and humorless. The apes are a perfect complement to a San Francisco that seems constantly rainy and overcast.
The film is directed by Matt Reeves, best known for helming LET ME IN, the Hammer Films remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. As with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the script is written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, at a higher quality and more believable level than the original series. Unlike the "X-Men" films, even if you missed the predecessors in the series it is fairly easy to get up to speed understanding what is going on. The human peacemakers are played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, neither of whom have enough screen presence to steal a scene from a manhole cover, let alone a CGI ape.
In spite of the marvelous CGI lavished on this production to make the apes look like apes, they anatomically seem to have the dimensions of humans. I guess the legs are too straight and too long and the spines are too straight. My theory is that with all the effects thrown into the film, there would still be too many apes to do with CGI alone so they still put humans into ape suits. That was how they did all the apes of the first series. Human proportions were not so noticeable in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, but there are a *lot* of apes in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and they cannot give each the attention it requires.
One thing that is of interest in this reboot of the "Planet of the Apes" series is that while the two newer films can be their own series, they also work as a continuation of the older series. In that series there was always a question to how apes and humans could so exactly change places. The apes live in the wide world and the humans are put in cages and zoos. The DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES rather neatly goes a long way to answer that question. Switching places could easily be the future of the apes and humans in the new film. At this point they are pretty close to being on an even footing. We are left at the end with a world in which there will be more war between apes and humans and the odds are fairly even. That alone adds interest to this film. Sadly, we know in advance too much of where the series is going. I rate DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2103281/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes/
ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
It was with some trepidation that I started reading ANCILLARY JUSTICE. It has won both the Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke award, and sometimes such award winners are over-rated. Also, I have seen various articles and reviews relating to the usage of gender pronouns in ANCILLARY JUSTICE which left me with the impression that the book was a feminist tract. However, I am pleased to report that ANCILLARY JUSTICE is indeed Hugo-worthy.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE is really three types of SF combined into one story--a space opera, a world-building story, and a hard-SF post-Singularity story. ANCILLARY JUSTICE has many of the traditional tropes of space opera--mighty battle fleets, a Galactic Empire, a Galactic Emperor, force-field battle suits, stargates, and so on. These elements are presented with no explanation and are simply used as story background. Without going into details, Leckie does some first class world building in ANCILLARY JUSTICE. Although she states in an afterward that the Galactic Empire, here called the "Radch," is based on Rome, it never feels like Rome. The worlds all feel deeply alien--perhaps originally human, but twisted by time and circumstance into something quite different.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE is at its best as a hard-SF post-Singularity story. It can be viewed as a universe in which a single person (male or female or AI--it is never clear), one Anaander Mianaai, has become post-human and established themselves as the supreme tyrant of a vast empire via the means of splitting their consciousness over a very large number of bodies. Within this sphere of control, Miannai has established a fleet of AI controlled ships which primarily use as soldiers human bodies directly controlled by the AIs. These "corpse soldiers" are called "ancillaries."
The main character of the book is the JUSTICE OF TOREN, a Justice class warship. There are two interweaved story threads. One follows the adventures of Breq, the last surviving ancillary of the JUSTICE OF TOREN. The other follows the JUSTICE OF TOREN during the sequence of events that leads to a tragic situation where the ship is destroyed with Breq as the only survivor. It is important to keep in mind that Breq is the JUSTICE OF TOREN, or at least all that remains.
The gender pronoun issue comes up because to the JUSTICE OF TOREN, bodies (and genders) are like suits of cloths. Breq appears to be female, but gender has only an arbitrary meaning in such a post-human existence. This setup allows Leckie to speculate in some depth about how such AIs and ancillaries might think, feel, and live. There is an element here of Commander Data learning to be human, but Breq is always Breq, more than a bit removed from humanity. And least one get the feeling this story is all hearts and flowers and tea-drinking ceremonies, Breq is a ruthless and super-humanly capable killing machine, remote from human concerns and ethics, operating according to her own sense of justice.
That's about all I'm going to say about the plot. There are a few too many tea-drinking sessions, and some unlikely plot twists where Breq meets people from her former life, but overall the story is well thought out. ANCILLARY JUSTICE is a great first novel by Ann Leckie, and is probably going to get my Hugo vote.
Stross's NEPTUNE'S CHILDREN is good economic science fiction, and a worthy Hugo candidate, but I'd put it a close second after ANCILLARY JUSTICE. I plan on voting Correia's WARBOUND third. I've seen postings on the Net that dismiss both Stross and Correia as being unreadable or simply not at the Hugo level. This isn't true, and in some other year, with some other nominees, I might have ended up voting either book as #1, but this year, ANCILLARY JUSTICE deserves the Hugo. [-dls]
WARBOUND by Larry Correia (copyright 2013, Baen Books, ISBN 13-978-1-4516) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, we come to one of the more, um, discussed novels on this year's ballot. Its presence on the ballot, as well as the presence of other nominees littered throughout a few of the other categories, has been blogged about, tweeted, discussed, dissected, vilified, trashed, and, oh, about a hundred thousand other things over the weeks since the ballot was announced. It was even talked about briefly here in the Void recently. I would be foolish to say that all the discussion did not negatively alter my perception of the book going into reading it. However, I did make every effort to read the book on its own merits without the influence of the swirling discussion.
That effort began with the fact that this is the third book in a trilogy--to be precise, the complete title is WARBOUND: BOOK III OF THE GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES. It's been well documented in these parts that I'm not fond of series books. I favor the standalone book that can tell its story in one nice package. However, much like finally caving in and getting a smartphone a few years ago, I realized that I had lost that battle--if it ever was a battle--and now grudgingly accept that some really good stuff is being written in the series format. However, as I've decided in the past, that in the case where the nominee was book X in a series of Y (and in this case, X = Y for the math fans out there), I would read it and judge it on its own merits. If the book can't stand on its own and be good, well, then it's not deserving of the award--and vice versa, of course.
The good news about WARBOUND is that a reader with any intelligence whatsoever can easily figure out What Has Gone Before without too much difficulty. Correia helps us along the way, so that by the time we get not too far into the book (for certain values of not too far) we're pretty much caught up on what has been going on.
"The Grimnoir Chronicles" takes place in an alternate world of the 1930s. A world in which there is magic, there are aliens, and there are blimps. So we have fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk. And there are zombies. So I guess there's horror here too. But not really. Anyway. Those people capable of magic are called Actives (I'm purposely not looking any of this up in the glossary of magical terms at the end of the book. This is pretty straightforward stuff.), and magic manifests itself in different ways in different people. We have Brutes, Mouths, Travelers, Cogs, etc. There are non-magicals too (I'm tempted to call them Muggles, but that would be just wrong). FDR is president, and if this is what FDR was back in the day I'm glad I wasn't alive.
So what's going on here? Well, it seems there's an interstellar critter--the Enemy--that wants to come and destroy us. There's another being out there, called the Power, that is trying to use humanity to channel all the magical power to fight the Enemy. See, there's this kind of Active called the Spellbound. There's only one Spellbound in existence at any one time. The Spellbound goes about killing other Actives and sucking in their magical power, thus becoming more powerful with every death. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out what the Spellbound is supposed to do.
I've resisted naming characters up to this point, in part because the other half of the Duel Fish Codices did that for me [see Gwen's review of HARD MAGIC below] and most of those characters are still around, and in part because, well, only one is really that important: sixteen-year-old Faye. You may play connect the dots at your leisure.
Somewhere in here is a really good story wanting to get out. The concept of magic as being explained via science--well, sort of--is intriguing. An alien intelligence that is trying to use humanity to fight off a nasty foe by giving humanity all the power it needs piques my interest, but does cause one to ask why it just can't fight off the superbad guy by itself (the answer, of course, is that each individual power as manifested within individual human beings is needed and, when summed with all the rest, is a force that cannot be resisted. Okay, I made that up, but absent any explanation in the book, well, I had to come up with something).
But there's so much stuff that gets in the way that there's no way to put it aside and see the book on whatever merits it has. The big cliche used here is rounding up all the Actives into towns so that eventually the Enemy can pick them off at its leisure (we've never seen that before, have we?). I'm so tired of that trope, and I LIKE the X-Men and other Marvel storylines that used it, but by now it's been overdone. So, Faye and Francis are apparently in love with each other. I can't really tell--the character interactions are nothing to write home about. And the editing on this is horribly sloppy. At one point, an Active is walking through Shanghai and meets a contact who tells him to "turn left when you get there (where ever there is, and it may actually be to turn right, but you'll get the idea shortly)". He gets there and turns RIGHT (or left, depending on my last parenthetical) and *arrives at exactly where he's supposed to be*. Wait, what? There are also numerous instances of phrases like "couldn't hardly", which of course ought to be "could hardly". If that phrase was actually uttered by one of the characters, I wouldn't even be mentioning it because it might be part of normal speech of the times. But it wasn't utter by a character--it was a narrative description. For example: Faye "couldn't hardly" bend over. Now, that sentence wasn't in the book, but you get the idea.
I'm okay with Correia having legions of fans. I may not think much of this book, but his fans are actually reading, which is a good thing. I just think they can do so much better. And so can Correia. [-jak]
HARD MAGIC by Larry Correia (copyright 2011, Baen, $15.00, 407pp, ISBN 978-1-4391-3434-4) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
See, I was going to be all /ambitious/.
HARD MAGIC is the first book of "The Grimnoir Chronicles"; the third book, WARBOUND, is of course nominated for a Hugo. Duelist Fish Dad skipped to book three, but me, oh no, /I/ was going to start at the beginning. I was going to read /all/ of them.
I honestly went into HARD MAGIC expecting to love it. It's noir urban fantasy in an alternate timeline where there is, of course, a divide between those with inherent magic, called Actives, and those without. The book switches points-of-view with alarming frequency, but according to both the blurb on the back and the cover on the front, our two main characters are Jack Sullivan and Delilah Jones.
Jake Sullivan is an ex-con--and, supposedly, a private eye, although to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have known this without the blurb telling me so, since I'm pretty sure he did absolutely nothing related to being a private eye except mention an office once. He's a type of Active called a "Heavy"--or a "Gravity Spiker"--but has been Studying Hard and has managed to expand into other fields of magic, where most Actives have only one type.
His femme fatale counterpart--or, well, she /would/ be the femme fatale, if this had /actually/ had the slightest relation to a noir--Delilah Jones is an Active called a "Brute." Unlike her cover shot, she actually has dark hair, but I guess the blonde look was more appealing. Brutes are extremely tough and known for their magically-enhanced physical strength. When I first read this about Delilah, I was pretty excited to see a female main character known for her brute strength, who clearly wasn't going to be prevented from fighting. (Who could stop her?) She enters into a fight with Jake, and her first line is...
"You were trying to /smoosh/ me, Heavy!"
Oh, good. She talks like a four-year-old.
It was pretty much all downhill from there.
Somewhat luckily, Delilah doesn't actually turn out to be much of a main character. She disappears, and her female-main-role is usurped by Faye. I spent most of this book convinced Faye was ten years old. It turns out she was about sixteen.
Her internal narration was peppered with words like "squished" and "the bad men," and her prominent character trait seemed to be that she was obsessed with cows. I kid you not, she seemed to think that cows were the greatest animals this earth has ever seen. She called a woman a cow, and then internally regretted it because she liked cows so much.
In fact, Delilah probably turned out to /be/ my favorite character (although Jane and Dan were admittedly kind of adorable), possibly because she didn't spend a whole lot of time on the page having her personality mangled by the complete lack of follow-up on any characterization from which the rest of the cast suffered. Her one moment of tragic empathy was shortly followed by an actually suspenseful scene, which resulted in her not being terribly prominent in the rest of the novel again. Shame.
Essentially, every moment in this book that could have been turned into intriguing character development is hastily dropped at the side of the road and either beaten to death by passing semis as it is stated over and over in completely non-compelling terms, or else it is never seen again. Madi, for example, has made so many magical changes to his body that he can hardly feel anything, and occasionally hurts himself on purpose just to see if he can. This is a trait I have always found fascinating in characters, but here it is simply announced to us repeatedly until it sounds kind of ridiculous and tired. Alternatively, Faye kills someone for the first time when she is ten years old--I'm sorry, sixteen or seventeen--but she never seems to react to this at all. How does she feel about this? Apparently, she does not care. That's probably something she should get checked out. Especially since she just keeps doing it.
Of course, it wouldn't be convenient for her to suffer emotional trauma like that or anything. She's like ten, right? She just has to keep being her happy bubbly ten-year-old self who loves cows because she grew up on a farm! And who is also hellbent on revenge, obviously. But ten-year-olds are good at revenge. Oh, and she possibly has a crush on Francis. Which is weird because he's twenty-something and she's like ten. Or, uh, sixteen?
There's no complexity to this novel. It does not even try to delve into the grey areas. At one point, a group of Grimnoir knights are discussing the difference between good magic and evil magic, and Jake actually asks how you can define evil magic. The response?
"I can't define evil, but I sure as hell know when I see it."
Well, that was easy.
Or, one of my personal favorite moments: A "Mouth" (who can influence people to do what he says) faces up to some gangster goons, and wants to take them out. However, he hesitates, and first asks, "Are you /bad/ men?"
"I've killed three people for Lenny Torrio!" said the first one proudly.
The second one snorted. "Big deal, I once broke an old lady's hip because she owed Mr. Capone protection money; then I beat her head in 'cause she got lippy."
The Mouth takes this as evidence that he can tell them to kill each other, because only bad people can be influenced to such horrible deeds. I mean, wow, imagine if those goons had possessed some inkling of humanity! Good thing good and bad are so black and white! That could've gotten messy!
I could rant for so much longer about this book. The setting doesn't have the slightest bit of description; there's no noir atmosphere, nothing to remind us that this is set in the 1930's at all, unless "squished" counts as 30's slang. I don't think Correia could really decide what he wanted his world to be, either, because it's just one big conglomeration of every single genre: urban fantasy, noir, steampunk (there are dirigibles), innate magic /and/ spells, zombies, demons, alternate history, and--I kid you not--aliens. There's a big alien creature coming from some other... elsewhere. I don't know. It's just /everything/. Not to mention that obnoxious habit of Capitalizing Everything that has to do with Magic Ever. It's not necessary. We readers, we have some modicum of intelligence, you know? We can figure out that Actives are Magical. I promise.
And the writing style. By far, the most painful thing about this novel was the writing style. I have to restrain myself because I don't /really/ like to just make fun of people, but holy snap, the writing style. In short? Nearly every single moment of this book was torture for me. Sure, the occasional character popped up who could've changed things, but it was never followed through on. They were left to the wayside in favor of an exhausted plot and the names of lots and lots of guns. Maybe it isn't fair to judge book three on book one, but--Hugo nominee or not--I will /not/ be reading the rest of the series. I just can't. Life is too short.
The remainder of this review will be dedicated to satirizing the agonizing sentence structure that passed for writing style in this novel. Please stop here if you wish to continue regarding me as a decent person.
I had better review a book I like soon, or you might stop believing I enjoy reading at all.
"It hurt unbelievably bad."
You know what else hurt unbelievably bad? That sentence.
"She ate her sandwich. It was good."
I'm pretty sure I was writing sentences more complex than this by second grade. If not sooner.
"...sounding embarrassed, just like back when Dad used to catch
[him] doing something bad, like torturing animals or setting
Because that's how I feel whenever Dad catches me torturing animals. Embarrassed. Whoops! Shouldn't have been doing that, I guess! It might've been bad!
"Her pain was killing him inside."
Are we... are we thirteen?
And, my personal favorite, upon one of the characters learning that
the woman he loves cannot come back from the dead...
"He died inside."
DESTINATION SPACE (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Recently I've been watching old-fashioned "realistic" SF to educate myself about early ideas of how the space program would turn out. I picked up this pilot for a CBS 1959 TV-series that was never given the go-ahead via an Amazon recommendation. DESTINATION SPACE stars Harry Townes as Jim Benedict, the leader of America's space program, and the creator of a space wheel sarcastically nicknamed "BB" for "Benedict's Billions." The most familiar cast member may be Edward Platt who plays Dr. Easton, but who is perhaps best known as "The Chief" from GET SMART.
In many ways this is a poorly put-together pilot. The dialog is often stiff and unrealistic, and the acting mechanical. The special effects are done cheaply by re-purposing scenes from THE CONQUEST OF SPACE in such a way that they barely make sense. A rocket that has a large wing for landing on Mars is here presented as a Moon rocket, for example. Some of the sillier scenes from THE CONQUEST OF SPACE appear, as when people "walk the plank" to "free jump" from a shuttle rocket to the station. In reality, jumping into free space without a tether or maneuvering rocket is just a slow drift to suicide. There is also a tacky subplot concerning two women in Benedict's life.
However, in other ways this is by far the best "realistic" SF of this era that I've seen. The plot revolves around various attempts to launch a moon rocket. The first is halted when meteors strike the station. The second is delayed when a key valve freezes and feats of daring-do are required to fix things. In each case, the delay results in millions of dollars of additional costs. The middle part of the episode is taken up with Congressional hearings, where Senator Royce, played by Robert Cornthwaite, grills Benedict, demanding to know why the moon rocket doesn't fly from the ground directly to the Moon? It is worth keeping in mind that the real-life Senator Royces won, and the real moon rocket did fly directly to the moon, pushing off by many decades a space station and shuttle rockets to sustain it. The dialog in these fictional hearings could have been lifted from recent Congressional hearing with only minor wording changes.
I'm not rating DESTINATION SPACE, but it is a *must see* for space advocates and SF fans who are interested in this sort of thing. [-dls]
In 1959 and 1960 there was an entire TV series on the subject of a fledgling space program. It was "Men Into Space," not to be confused with the film FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959). It was that ran for 38 half-hour episodes. Writers included David Duncan, Jerome Bixby, Ib Melchior, and James Clavell. All 38 episodes are available on YouTube. See http://tinyurl.com/MTV-MenIntoSpace. [-mrl]
GREASEPAINT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary is the story of one man who wanted to be a clown, the circus he founded with his family as performers, and the larger family of all the performers in his show. Director Daniel Espeut's organization for the film is rather by the numbers, but he shows us a segment of society with a lifestyle we have rarely seen. Along the way he includes testimony of famous clowns on what is the art of the clown. The film is generally good-hearted, giving us a loyal family and a supportive group of performers. Only late in the film do we get a feel for some of the friction between circus members that has been going on all along. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
GREASEPAINT is the documentary of NoJoe's Clown Circus, a traveling circus that performs eleven months of the year and in that time will put on maybe 600 shows. The NoJoe has about six performers, three of whom are one family. The circus is really built around founder Joey Thurmond, who performs under the name NoJoe. The clown named Miss Jamie is really Joey's wife Jamie. Under the makeup Toot is really their son Tyler. The primary non-family member is Fluffy, really Hernan Colonia. Director Daniel Espeut chronicles the life on the road of the tiny NoJoe Circus.
The organization of the narrative is straightforward. We start with a biography of Joey Thurmond. Joey at nineteen was a professional wrestler when his back was broken. It was questionable whether he would walk again, but after recovery he became a rodeo rider and a policeman. While he was on the police force he supplemented his wages with stints being a clown until he decided that the police job was good steady work that he hated. He quit the force to become a full-time clown. He brought his life and later his son into the business with him and still later non-family performers. Joey has bet every cent he has on the circus. He has no pension, no life savings, no stocks. All his finances are on the line. If the circus fails he will have no money. Joey feels his dream is strong enough to inspire this whole family and runs them like a despot.
We move on to the clowns' semi-secret skill. What is the philosophy of "clownhood"? We are told what it is not. It is not just wearing grease paint and fooling around, but we are never told much of what it really is. There are specialized skills a clown needs to know. Some children, and even some adults, have a natural fear of clowns and some time is spent in the film on what is the best way for a clown to seem non-threatening for little children.
From there we look at some of the day-to-day drama of the business. Hernan is a fifth-generation circus performer, but he is an illegal immigrant and desperately in need of a green card that he cannot get. Espeut moves the cameras to what is circus life with the family on the road. Joey has prosaic problems like paying his performers. He gets bad checks. The rising price of gasoline alone could sink his tiny circus. And Joey is constantly revising and improving the show. Joey antagonizes his loved ones by always appearing to love his family second and the circus first. Is the circus dearer to him than his own family?
GREASEPAINT gives us a look behind the painted faces, the bright red noses, and the giant grins to see what the clowns are really thinking about. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. GREASEPAINT is on DVD and will be out on video on demand August 1, 2012.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2983602/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/greasepaint/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY by Amanda Ripley (ISBN 978-1-4516-5442-4) follows three exchange students in three countries that out-perform the United States on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Ripley was trying to figure out what they were doing right, and what we were doing wrong. The answer is complex--for example, almost everyone agrees that South Korea has gone overboard in its efforts. But the bottom line seems to be two-fold: 1) make education important, and 2) insist that teachers be highly qualified and trained.
The first part has many aspects. A big one is that schools in the United States spend a lot of times on things other than education--in particular, sports. Youth sports in other countries are organized by community clubs or other organizations, not in the schools. A side effect of our emphasis on sports is that we hire coaches and then have them teach classes almost as a sideline. This impacts the second part. In other countries, teachers have to be in the top of their class, have to be educated (including a full one-year internship) for six years, and have to have a degree in the field they will be teaching.
As for making education important, all these countries require students to pass stringent tests to get into university. And these are important; consider South Korea:
"On the eve of the big test, ... the younger students cleaned the classrooms for the seniors. They purged the walls of posters and even covered the flag so that test takes would be able to focus on the college entrance exam without any distractions. ... The whole country obsessed over the test. Korea Electric Power Corp. sent out crew members to check the power lines serving each of the one thousand text locations. The morning of the test, the stock market opened an hour late to keep the roads free for the more than six hundred thousand students headed to the test. Taxis gave students free rides. ... Police officers patrolled the school perimeter to discourage cars from homing their horns and distracting the students. ... During the English language listening portion of the test, ... airplanes were grounded to reduce unnecessary noise."
Compare this with the SATs in the United States, where students take much shorter tests, and take them multiple times so they can pick and choose the best score for each section to send to the colleges they apply to. The only thing that comes close to getting this sort of attention in the United States is high school football in Texas. (In high school, our chess team won all its matches, but their results were read in the morning announcements only if there was time after announcing that the junior varsity baseball team had lost to the local junior high school.)
The question of exams brings up another issue: the concept of responsibility. In these other countries, students take exams under strict conditions, get graded on them, and that is their grade. There is no "Can I retake this because I had football practice the night before?" or "Can we use the books during the test?"
And this ties in with the other book I read this week, YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL AND OTHER ENCOURAGEMENTS by David McCullough, Jr. (ISBN 978-0*06-225734-5). This grew out of a graduation speech given by McCullough (son of the famous author). A lot of what McCullough says addresses this attitude of "I'm special and deserve special treatment." Closely related is, "We should never let any child ever fail at anything, or get a bad grade, or suffer any consequences for mistakes." The result is that often the first time a child (now an adult) encounters negative consequences or even criticism is in college (if they are lucky), or when they hit the real world after college.
In Poland, in South Korea, in Finland, or indeed in almost any other country, students have to excel to get into college. Here they merely have to show up for classes in high school (or maybe not even that). It is not surprising that so many of them drop out of college after a year or so. In other countries, there are vocational schools and other paths for the non-college-bound.
But it is worse than that. High school graduates in other countries have a knowledge of math, of reasoning, of how to analyze problems, of how to organize their thoughts and communicate them. All too often, high school graduates here have none of these. Industries looking for factory workers say that high school graduates are not trained enough in even these skills for the jobs that are now available. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I was sleeping the other night, alone, thanks to the exterminator. --Emo PhilipsTweet
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