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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/25/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 4, Whole Number 1816
Table of Contents
The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE:
A $10 million prize for a "portable, wireless device in the palm of your hand that monitors and diagnoses your health conditions":
SF on TV (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just finished watching the first season of ORPHAN BLACK. I tell you, science fiction and fantasy on television is better than ever. A lot of the stories used to be simplistic even in "Star Trek". Right now everybody tells me that not one but the two best genre TV series are running right now. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on which two series they are. [-mrl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
August 7: THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library August 14: DR. STRANGELOVE (film) and RED ALERT by Peter George (a.k.a. Peter Bryant) (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM August 28: THERE'S MORE TO NEW JERSEY THAN THE SOPRANOS by Marc Mappan, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 11: OBLIVION (film) and ? (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM September 25: IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 9: PI (film) and ? (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM October 23: THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2012, edited by Dan Ariely (selected articles), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 13: TIME AFTER TIME (film) and TIME AFTER TIME by Karl Alexander (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM November 20: ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 11: MIMIC (film) and "Mimic" by Donald Wollheim (story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM December 18: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change): September 6: David Mack, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for August (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Turner seems to have set up a streaming facility so that you can stream any film more than a day but less than a week after it showed up on TCM. Actually I would have preferred they set it up with completely different movies. But it could be a useful feature.
Anyway, another month is coming. It is time to pick the films I recommend on Turner Classic Movies. TCM is showing half of what I think would be an ideal double feature. I am not sure what is going on in their minds that they did not take an evening and have the complete THREE MUSKETEERS and FOUR MUSKETEERS, particularly in this day of binge watching. All times are Eastern Daylight Saving Time.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973)
The IMDB lists ten screen versions of Alexandre Dumas's THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I know of nobody who seriously contests that the best version is the 1973 version directed by Richard Lester and starring--get this--Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Frank Finlay, Geraldine Chaplin, Christopher Lee, Simon Ward, Spike Milligan, and Sybil Danning. The tone is lighthearted and frequently very funny.
Charleton Heston had some problems with his role as Cardinal Richelieu. Heston, at 6'2", was used to towering over the other actors in his scenes. Christopher Lee was three inches taller and had to walk in a trench in his scenes with Heston so Heston would not look too short. Apparently being too short for his scenes was a new experience for Heston. Heston also had problems working with Spike Milligan, who had honed his spontaneous humor on the radio program "The Goon Show". Milligan ad-libbed hilariously in every scene he was with Heston, and Heston could not get through a scene with Milligan without breaking up laughing. The script is by George MacDonald Fraser, author of the "Flashman" series about a total cad and coward at many of the major English battles between 1839 and 1894. The swordplay is considered very authentic to the period. The actors had to be trained on the proper style of swordsmanship. William Hobbs, probably the most respected name in screen sword fighting, choreographed the scenes of fighting with great attention to detail.
The director had one surprise in the film that even the actors did not know about. In fact, especially the actors did not know about until they saw a preview showing of the film. The film ended with the villains losing out and virtue being rewarded, just like the other versions. Then the closing credits included a note that the story would continue in THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974). And in fact the entire rounded story of the novel is told over two films. The actors had performed in one film and were paid for one film, arduous as it was. They did not know until the preview showing that they had made two films. This was the basis of a lawsuit that ended in a compromise that made neither side very happy. They actors were paid more, but not enough that it would have covered two films. Still, one of my friends said that the highpoint of the movie was the announcement in the credits that the story would continue with THE FOUR MUSKETEERS.
Sadly, TCM is not showing the second film this month. This will be their first showing of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and they have never shown THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. We can hope that TCM will show the two films in the future, hopefully back-to-back. [Friday, August 15, 8:00 PM]
Brian DePalma's controversial gangster film SCARFACE (1983) has caused a stir for its bloody violence and for Al Pacino's portrayal of a totally ruthless criminal. Some may be unaware that this film is a remake of one of the great gangster films of the 1930s. The film was co-produced by Howard Hawkes and Howard Hughes. Hawkes also co-directed with Robert Rosson. Ben Hecht based the story of Tony Cremonte (played by Paul Muni) on the rise to power of "Scarface" Al Capone. But then Hecht vigorously denied that fact when two of Capone's henchmen unexpectedly turned up on his doorstep. Hecht lied claiming there was no connection between this screen gangster and Capone.
The film took almost two years to be released. In that time one of the supporting actors became famous enough to be listed on the new poster as "Boris *Frankenstein* Karloff". Paul Muni was one of the best gangster actors like Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, though not as well remembered these days. Probably he is best remembered for I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932). [Wednesday, August 6, 9:30 PM]
Best of the Month:
I do not have a whole lot of choice for the best film of the month. I would be drummed out of the Film Critic Society if I did not choose Orson Welles's CITIZEN KANE. That is the film most often chosen as being the best film ever made. In recent years VERTIGO has been giving it some competition, but it still generally holds first place. [Saturday, August 30, 2:15 AM]
AFTERMATH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Nine survivors of an international nuclear war make their way to a cellar where they hope they can be relatively safe. Luckily a doctor among them is able to give them the basic instructions of what to do to stay alive. But there are other survivors outside who are willing to fight their way into the shelter of the basement. It is clear there is only one realistic place that this film can be going. Having a viewer know that is a severe handicap for director Peter Engert from a script by Christian McDonald. A more experienced director would have been needed to make this a film that worked really well, but still Engert beats expectation. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
After a nuclear attack, if you survive, what do you do next? You try to find shelter from the radiation. Once you find that you sit around and wait. You may fight to defend your shelter, and you wait to die. Perhaps you watch others die. That is not a hard story to put on film, but it does not make for a very good narrative. If one is making that story it is easy to make it realistic, but it is hard to make it engaging. I cannot say that AFTERMATH is entertaining. It does raise some curiosity about what some people will do with the last days of their lives before they die of radiation, but most of what you can do with the plot has been done before.
AFTERMATH begins one month after a nuclear holocaust and we see Hunter (C. J. Thomason) stumbling around against a Texas landscape that is a little worse for wear, but not greatly so. Nature seems to be getting along in the post-nuke-attack world. We flash back one month and a much healthier Hunter is listening to radio reports of Benjamin Netanyahu having been assassinated, and in short order there are nuclear bombs going off around the world. A pick-up truck approaches him on the road but as it is doing so we see a bright flash in the distance and a mushroom cloud. He and the two pickup passengers, once they have their wits about them, go off looking for food, supplies and shelter. Eventually we have nine people in the basement of a farmhouse trying to work out what are the best ways to stay alive.
There is not that much that can be done in the post-nuke-apocalypse film that has not been done in a lot of other. There is not nearly the time to do the plotting of a story like TV's JERICHO. Where AFTERMATH is different is use as a threat people wanting to get into the shelter for it food and protection. These raiders are visualized in the best traditions of zombie films, even if they are a more believable foe than cinematic zombies.
Is director Peter Engert good enough to hold his viewers' attention? Well, sort of yes and sort of no. It could have been a lot worse. At least for the most part the AFTERMATH is generally realistic and credible. Acting is not really attention getting, but it does the job. Probably the most interesting character is Edward Furlong as the cynical Brad. The plot is a little contrived. The survivors we see have a doctor, a nurse, and a Geiger counter. How many shelters would be so blessed? One of the characters has seen five nuclear blasts in one day and is still walking and talking. I am not enough of an expert to say that is impossible, but it seems to me really unlikely.
Christian McDonald's script is overall just as dour as one might expect. There is one single joke when a character realizes in one way he is better off being in Texas rather than some other state. Hunter's advice on how to survive the situation at least sounds valid and could be useful if ever you find yourself in the same position (God forbid). This is not a fun film and there is not enough action to call it a good action film. It does much of what it is supposed to do, but there is little in this film you have not seen before in other post-holocaust films. I rate AFTERMATH a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1564368/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/aftermath_2014/
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE by Daryl Gregory (copyright 2014, Tachyon, $14.95, 190pp, ISBN 978-1-61696-171-8) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
After some heavy duty Hugo reading I decided it was time to launch into something lighter, something that I could grab off my to-read stack--that's the physical to-read stack, as opposed to the to-read *list*, which contains all my e-books--and whip through in something of a relative hurry. Relative, of course, because I'm a notoriously slow reader. I knew I had a couple novella-length books on the stack, so I reached for the one on top, Daryl Gregory's WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE.
The only way that this book met my criteria for something that I wanted to read was that I was able to whip through it in a relative hurry, and that's because it was difficult to put down. Light reading this isn't. This is disturbing, dark, and at times, downright scary.
The story chronicles the existence of a support group put together by a psychotherapist named Jan Sayer. While this is in and of itself unremarkable, what *is* remarkable is the makeup of this group. Each of the five individuals has some sort of horrific, and sometimes supernatural, trauma in their past which has emotionally scarred them. Stan has survived being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara has been attacked by an entity called the Scrimshander, which has etched some sort of message onto her bones. Martin wears what appear to be sunglasses, but which are actually so much more than sunglasses and which allow him to see far more than meets the eye. Harrison is a former monster detective and hunter who has survived more than a few supernatural creatures in his day. And Greta--well, Greta has a very dark past, a past which contains a link to something very sinister and nasty indeed. And holding the group all together is Dr. Sayer herself, who puts together this support group in the hopes that she can help them get past the horrific events in their lives and start them on the road to having a normal life. She does sometimes wonder what she's gotten herself into, and with good reason.
The book tells the story of the support group from start to finish- -from its first meeting until the very last, when the group disbands after the climax of the story. From the perspective of someone who has no experience with support groups, it seems evident that Gregory did his research with regard to how support groups work, how they grow, and how they survive when the group dynamics change, especially as the group finds out more and more about its individual members. Gregory does a masterful storytelling job here, giving the reader the backstory of each of the characters, and making us think that maybe the members of the group are not necessarily just a bit out of left field, or that their stories are not truly supernatural in nature, but are just things that are going on in their heads. I certainly had my doubts at points throughout the early portions of the book about the group members and their individual stories; Gregory kept me wondering for quite a while until I was at last the characters finally convinced me that they were who they said they were and experienced what they said they experienced.
The big climax of the story is completely satisfying and follows naturally from what we've learned throughout the book. In my opinion, Gregory never forecast that climax; after reading in the genre for something like 45 years, I feel like I've seen most everything. And while the climax wasn't wholly unexpected, the storytelling was superb enough that I wasn't really sure and I really wanted to get to the end so I could find out because, well, I didn't *know*. And I really wanted to know. I don't experience that feeling very often these days. And the additional reveal, which was quite surprising to me and I *really* didn't see coming, was a nice touch and didn't feel forced or out of place--in fact, it made sense, given the rest of the story.
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY fine is not something I would normally pick up, but I'm glad I took the time to read it. I think you should give it a shot. I think you'll be glad you did. [-jak]
WHAT IS RELATIVITY? by Jeffrey Bennett (book review by Gregory Frederick):
In 2015, it will be a hundred years since Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was published. This book is an intuitive introduction to those ideas and to the theory of Special Relativity also. The foundation of Special Relativity rests on two statements: that the laws of physics are the same for everyone and that the speed of light is the same for everyone. The first statement is an idea that goes back to the time of Galileo and does not sound surprising. But the second does not fit with our everyday common sense. If you roll a ball on a plane traveling at 500 MPH an observer on the ground sees the ball moving at its rolling speed plus the plane's speed of 500 MPH. But if you instead turn on a flashlight an observer on the plane or one on the ground would say the flashlight beam is traveling at the same 300,000 kilometers per hour. Light speed is always the same for both observers; you do not add the plane's speed to the light beam speed.
Einstein's General Theory of Relativity explains something that Newton could not explain. Though Newton had produced a universal law of gravity which works well in many cases he could not explain how one body like the Sun could reach across space and effect the Earth's movement for example. There was no cable connecting the two bodies. Einstein's theory tells us how this happens due to the curving of the 4 dimensional space-time continuum. The huge mass of the Sun curves the space-time continuum around it and the planets orbit because they are forced to follow this curvature. An analogy which is often used is that of a bowling ball representing the Sun which is sitting at the center of a stretched rubber sheet (space-time continuum) and the depression caused by the bowling ball causes marbles (the planets) to circle around or orbit the depression.
In the hundred-plus years' time since Special Relativity was published and the almost hundred-year history since General Relativity was published every observation or experiment used to test these theories has proven them to be correct. A spacecraft launched by NASA to measure the curvature of the space-time continuum around the Earth caused by Earth's mass has matched the theoretical predictions to a high degree of accuracy. Measuring the location of a star when the Sun is in total eclipses verses when the Sun is not near that star (at night) demonstrates that even light is forced to follow the curvature of the space-time continuum caused by the Sun. If astronomers do this measurement during an eclipse of the Sun verses when the Sun is not near the star (at night) as we view it from the Earth, they see the star at different locations.
This book is one of the best introductions to Einstein's revolutionary theories of Relativity; it is clear, concise and has very good explanations for the causal science book reader. [-gf]
Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentations (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentations in the 07/18/14 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
I agree with Dale Skran on the Best Dramatic Hugo--Short Form. The category is irretrievably broken. It never should have been a "best episode" award, but one for best television series (which would also end the confusion about nominating entire seasons in Long Form). Many good shows, such as "Orphan Black" which I recently was turned onto, get stiffed as a result.
As for Long Form much as I like FROZEN--it made my ten best list-- there is really only one good choice for best SF film (i.e., Long Form) of the year, and that is GRAVITY. The other choices are okay, although to me the weakest one was PACIFIC RIM, which was incoherent and so darkly shot that most of the time I couldn't even tell what was going on. Were those pieces flying by part of the robots, the monsters, or the city being destroyed? I thought it was a major disappointment from a director (Guillermo del Toro) I usually like. [-dk]
"Men into Space" (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to Mark's comments on "Men into Space" in the 07/18/14 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
I loved that show. At ten I had a Colonel McCauley space helmet. It's probably rose-colored glasses but I still remember that show as having more sophisticated plots than anything even years later. For example, a group of astronauts stranded on the moon too far from base for their suit oxygen. They have a spare bottle, but not the special tool needed to activate the flow. They could "MacGyver" a solution with a can opener and one member actually had one, in his pants pocket inside his space suit. [-no]
21 Jokes (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Mark's comments on 21 jokes in the 07/18/14 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
I got all of them, but I have to admit that sixteen sodium atoms required several minutes of thought before it came to me. [-pr]
For what it's worth, that seems to be the one that people have the most trouble with. [-ecl]
The reason I missed it is that just after seeing it I told Evelyn about the 21 jokes and she got it before I had a chance to. I got all but that one. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
FEARING THE DARK: THE VAL LEWTON CAREER by Edmund G. Bansak (ISBN 978-0-78641-709-4) is a very thorough look at the career and legacy of Val Lewton. It combines biography with film criticism, and spends over a hundred pages discussing the later careers of the three directors Lewton worked with during his RKO period, and also of the influence Lewton's work had on the 1950s science fiction and horror cycle and later. (The book is almost 600 pages long, so this does not mean that Lewton himself gets short shrift.) The main drawback, of course, is the price--McFarland books are not cheap. But luckily McFarland publishes trade paperbacks of most of their popular culture books, so it will end up costing about the same as the "Val Lewton Horror Collection" on DVD.
One note that sums up Lewton's attitude:
George Waggner was an important producer and director at Universal Studios, and his "rules" for horror films as listed by Richard G. Hubler in "Scare 'Em to Death--and Cash In" ("The Saturday Evening Post", May 23,1942) were:
Val Lewton seemed determined to break them all.
[Coincidentally, TCM seems to be having a Val Lewton film festival this Sunday, with CAT PEOPLE, CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, and VAL LEWTON: THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS.]
I have read THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-1-840- 22636-2) before, of course, but some recent reference to it led me to re-read it, and it is just as good as previously. What is worth noting is the wide range of styles one finds in it--for example in the section on Pompeii.
There is the poetic, of course:
"The most exquisite bronzes we have seen in Europe, came from the exhumed cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and also the finest cameos and the most delicate engravings on precious stones; their pictures, eighteen or nineteen centuries old, are often much more pleasing than the celebrated rubbish of the old masters of three centuries ago. They were well up in art. From the creation of these works of the first, clear up to the eleventh century, art seems hardly to have existed at all--at least no remnants of it are left--and it was curious to see how far (in some things, at any rate,) these old time pagans excelled the remote generations of masters that came after them. The pride of the world in sculptures seem to be the Laocoon and the Dying Gladiator, in Rome. They are as old as Pompeii, were dug from the earth like Pompeii; but their exact age or who made them can only be conjectured. But worn, and cracked, without a history, and with the blemishing stains of numberless centuries upon them, they still mutely mock at all efforts to rival their perfections."
There is the keen observation:
"It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent city of the dead--lounging through utterly deserted streets where thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and confusion of traffic and pleasure. They were not lazy. They hurried in those days. We had evidence of that. There was a temple on one corner, and it was a shorter cut to go between the columns of that temple from one street to the other than to go around--and behold that pathway had been worn deep into the heavy flagstone floor of the building by generations of time-saving feet! They would not go around when it was quicker to go through. We do that way in our cities. "
There is the humorous, often of the sort that suddenly jumps out at you when you least expect it:
"But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could not conquer. We never read of Pompeii but we think of that soldier; we can not write of Pompeii without the natural impulse to grant to him the mention he so well deserves. Let us remember that he was a soldier--not a policeman-- and so, praise him. Being a soldier, he staid,--because the warrior instinct forbade him to fly. Had he been a policeman he would have staid, also--because he would have been asleep. "
There is even science fiction, as in this suggested excerpt from the "Encyclopedia for A.D. 5868":
"URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT--popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A. D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo- foo states that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote 'Rock me to Sleep, Mother.'"
CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC by Tony Horwitz (ISBN 978-0-679-75833-X) is Horwitz's travelogue of a journey through the South to see how the Civil War impacts today. There are a variety of manifestations Horwitz looks into: re-enactors, historical societies, groups such as the Daughters of the Confederacy, and the attitudes of "average" Southerners, both black and white.
He met people who fit every stereotype of redneck Southerners, who said things like, "I'm here to defend my race against the government and the Jewish-controlled media." (In this, there seems to be a rare point of agreement between the whites and the blacks-- one black veteran of the Selma-to-Montgomery march told Horwitz, "It's true what [Farrakhan] says about the Jews. They used to be on our side. But now a lot of them are blood-suckers.")
He met (Southern) re-enactors who portrayed Confederates one weekend and Yankees the next (as the circumstances demanded), more interested in the struggle than in promoting the politics of either side. He met members of organizations who were entirely wrapped up in remembering the past, and other members (often the next generation) who were members mostly to please their families.
Shelby Foote has what Horwitz described as a "nuanced" view of the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederate battle flag, and (one presumes) most of the controversial elements of the Civil War image. Foote sees the original Ku Klux Klan as "[Combating] the cruel excesses of Reconstruction." But that Klan disbanded around 1870; the Klan of today originated after the film BIRTH OF A NATION, and was just "anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black." Similarly, "the [Confederate] battle flag was a combat standard, not a political. ... [It] had become 'a banner of shame and disgrace and hate.' But [Foote] pinned the blame for this on educated Southerners who allowed white supremacists to misuse the flag during the civil rights struggle."
The only problem with this, and most other Southern apologists' views of the Civil War is that they all seem to be based on the claim that the Civil War was about states rights and the Southern way of life. But the "Southern way of life" was possible only because of slavery, and several of the declarations of secession (South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas) explicitly name slavery as the main cause (or indeed, the only cause) of their secession. Most of the other seceding states did not explicitly list the causes of their decision.
What Horwitz also found was that a hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, blacks and whites had separate museums, separate Memorial Day ceremonies, separate parades, and separate views of history. Re-enactors--on both Union and Confederate sides--are overwhelmingly white. Classrooms and school cafeterias may be integrated, but when they seat themselves, the black students sit on one side and the white students on the other.
Horvitz sums up the situation thusly: "The issues at stake in the Civil War--race in particular--remained raw and unresolved, as did the broad question the conflict posed: Would America remain one nation? In 1861, this was a regional dilemma. which it wasn't anymore. But socially and culturally, there were ample signs of separatism and disunion along class, race, ethnic and gender lines. The whole notion of a common people united by common principles-- even by a common language--seemed more open to question than at any period in my lifetime." [-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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