MT VOID 08/01/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 5, Whole Number 1817

MT VOID 08/01/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 5, Whole Number 1817

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/01/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 5, Whole Number 1817

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Hugo Awards Ceremony Party (NJ):

On August 17 we will be hosting a Hugo Awards Party at our house. The Hugo Awards will be presented in London starting at 2000 British Summer Time, or 3 PM Eastern Daylight Time, and we can all gather around our television to watch the live stream. (If by chance the streaming fails, we can always follow the Twitter feed!)

After the ceremony we can adjourn to the local diner for dinner and discussion.

RSVP please for directions and so we know how much seating we need. (Plan on arriving about 2:30, so that we are all set to watch starting at 3.) [-mrl/ecl]

Top Documentary Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Just as I am a big fan of narrative films I am also a fan of documentaries. Usually I get my documentaries from PBS and that, of course, is sort of a limited source. A new site currently has more than 2100 documentaries available to watch free on-line and their collection is growing. Sadly, they are presented in broad categories, so you have to look through all their science documentaries to find all their mathematics films. With that one complaint, I have to say I consider the "Top Documentary Films" website to be a nice find and it could get much better with time. Visit it at

Of course, the opinions expressed may not correspond to your own.

Art Stadlin points out that there is a similar site that claims to have 1400 documentaries at, although the interface seems to show only fifty or so.

There seems to be a very different dynamic on film releases from documentaries to narrative films. Generally the maker of a narrative film says, "This is the film I have made. Why not go buy a theater ticket and see the film?" The message from documentary filmmakers is more like, "Oh, please. Oh, please. Watch my film. You can watch it free from YouTube or from other film sites. I don't want anything from you. Just that you please watch my movie." Of the two approaches I prefer the documentary filmmaker's. [-mrl]

METROPOLIS (Moroder version) Free On-line (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In 1984 Giorgio Moroder took what was then as complete a version of METROPOLIS possible and set it to then contemporary rock. I don't completely endorse the music, but it is good to see a fairly complete version of Fritz Lang's science fiction classic. The Moroder version is on-line for free viewing, thanks to the Open-Culture site.


Neanderthal-Human Mating (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

"Neanderthal DNA is irregularly spaced through the modern human genome rather than being fully mixed. That implies that interbreeding occurred very rarely. Sankararaman estimates it may have happened just four times." ( I think it all happened over one wild weekend. Until DNA studies advanced the maxim was always "what happens at Olduvai stays at Olduvai." [-mrl]

Phantoms of the Opera: A Survey of Adaptations (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[The following article is a survey of what is as far as I know all the English-language adaptations of the novel THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Gaston Leroux. (There also is a version that was made in Chinese.) his article was published previously in the MT VOID but has been revised and made more complete. We will run it over four issues of the MT VOID.

I expect that someone will come to me and ask why I did not include Brian De Palma's 1974 film PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. At some point I had to make some decisions what is and is not an adaptation of the novel. De Palma made it easier for my by not claiming in the credits to be based on the novel. I think that I have achieved completeness, but I am willing to entertain contrary opinions.]

Imagine a man born with the sort of genius and universal mind that Goethe had, but also born with a hideous face that sends people away screaming. Even Erik's mother is terrified by the face of her own son. Erik spent his early years in a freak show, but still found time to develop his keen mind, perhaps more so because he could have no social life. He was by turns a sideshow freak, an artist, a master magician and ventriloquist, a great singer, and the assistant to the Shah-in-Shah of Persia. For a while he was the most powerful man in Persia. He became a political assassin, a great architect, an inventor, and finally he retreated into anonymity as a common stone mason. Finally he gets a chance to apply his genius in a positive way, the design portions of the Paris Opera House, a fantastically intricate building in fact as well as in the novel.

When the work in the opera house is completed, rather than returning to the unfeeling world, he forsakes the sunshine that shows up his deformity and decides to live in the dark suffused by the divine music of the opera. It is a Chinese puzzle world that only he knows the intricate secrets of because he designed many of them in. And knowing all its many secret passages he is its absolute ruler. It even has an underground lake (actually used to buoy up the stage in the real Paris opera house) and as a remembrance of his past he has built a torture chamber. Then Erik hears a voice in the chorus whose owner he realizes he can, with proper training, turn into a supreme singer. He dupes the naive girl, who hears his voice but never sees him, into thinking he is an angel sent from heaven by her dead father to teach her to become a great singer.

These are all bits and pieces of background you pick up in the novel THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Gaston Leroux. Nobody has ever dramatized the story and done a sufficient justice to the tragedy of Erik. I am not claiming this is great literature, by any means. It is exaggerated, certainly. But it is melodramatic enough to be done really well in a dramatic medium. However, nobody has ever even attempted it except on the most superficial level. I do think that there is more of Erik in the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber than in the Chaney version which made him a lunatic escaped from Devil's Island, but even the musical does not really do justice to the drama of the character. My interpretation of the novel, though it is not explicit in the writing, is that Erik's interest in Christine is artistic rather than simply romantic or sexual. Upon hearing a perfectable voice he becomes maniacal in his efforts to first perfect the voice and then to possess the source of that voice. Audiences seem to find sexual motives more understandable than artistic ones. In most dramatic adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Gray's professed reason for rejecting Sibyl Vane is similarly reduced from an artistic motive to a sexual one.

As the stage play gives the Andrew Lloyd Webber productions of this story continuing popularity, it is worthwhile to compare the various adaptations of the novel.

The novel can be found free and easily on-line. Once such place is

The backstory of Erik's life can be found seven paragraphs into the Epilogue at the end of the novel.

1925 Lon Chaney

The silent 1925 silent version is certainly the one that made people aware of the story. It is very probably not only the most famous film version of the story but also is probably the most famous screen role of Lon Chaney. The only other screen role that he is remembered anywhere near as well for is as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I am not sure it is as true today, but when I was growing up if you thought of the Phantom you pictured Lon Chaney's makeup. And kids of my generation thought of the Phantom a lot, particularly if they read Famous Monsters of Filmland which often ran stills from the film and fanciful paintings of the Chaney Phantom. Even now Chaney's is the only Phantom that when I think of, I think first of how he looked unmasked. In fact, one rarely sees reproductions of how the Chaney Phantom looked masked. His hat seems wrong for the early 1900s and he looks sort of like a gangster wearing a party mask. We see him more often without his mask than with it.

For being faithful to the novel, this is certainly one of the better versions. Much of what we see on the screen really was from the novel, though the converse, unfortunately, cannot be said. Much of the novel is omitted from the film. Part of the reason for that is that the pace of storytelling very often had to be slow in the silent film due to the constraints of the medium. There could be only limited dialog in a scene because when a character said something of import the action had to stop while the dialog

was shown on the screen on a title card. Even then the rule of thumb was to figure how long it took the director to read the title card three times and that was how long it was left on the screen. Dialog had to be very terse. As a result the silent film was often a very inefficient way of telling a story. A sound film can tell reasonably well tell a story of about forty pages. Much longer than that and you have to start cutting material. For a silent film the story you can tell probably has to be closer to twenty pages. The Leroux novel is neither long nor complex, but most of it did not make it to the Lon Chaney film.

One element of the novel that was included in this version and is no other dramatic version (but the animated) is the presence of the Persian. In the book it is he who tells us most of what we eventually know of Erik. The Persian is in the Lon Chaney version, but what we learn of Erik is purely the invention of the film. There we are told that Erik is a maniac escaped from Devil's Island. Where he learned what he must know about singing to teach Christine is never explained. A recent article by Scott McQueen in the September and October 1989 American Cinematographer suggests that it was originally intended to have a much more accurate background for Erik, but that the scenes set in Persia were cut to save expense and screen time. This is a serious shortcoming in that if Erik has any credibility. We should be told something of the source of his talents. To say that he is a maniac who once was tortured in this same building and who escaped from Devil's Island does not reasonably account for his abilities.

McQueen's article also recounts that there were strong personality conflicts between Chaney and director Rupert Julian. In fact, even for the standards of silent films (which were acted mostly in pantomime anyway) the acting is not very good in Chaney's version. Mary Philbin's acting as Christine is over the top with exaggerated facial expression. The director does not seem to take the character seriously and it is hard for the audience to either. To my taste there is entirely too much comic relief, particularly because most of it works so poorly. The ballerinas flit around in fear and react to the most terrifying revelations by turning pirouettes. There is too much slapstick with Florine Papillon (Snitz Edwards) popping in and out of trap doors. The only decent acting is from Chaney himself. It is perhaps part script and part his acting, but his threatening with sarcastic civility is chilling. Tracy would later use the same sarcastic civility, dripping with menace, to terrorize Ingrid Bergman in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In spite of serious flaws, this is the version that brought the story to the attention of American audiences and had it never been made the story would very likely have been forgotten. Until the Crawford version came along it was the version most firmly implanted in the public's mind and likely will again be the best remembered version.

1937 Jin Shan

The Lon Chaney version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was shot as a silent film and then re-fitted to have some sound segments. All of those scenes, I believe were ones of the singing of opera. The earliest all-sound version of the story is one that until recently has not generally been known in the West. It is a 1937 film, made in China, which in English is called SONG AT MIDNIGHT. This film is considered a horror film. But with the exception of just one or two sequences it was for the most part more just a sad story than a horrific one. The Phantom's appearance is shocking, but the plot is much less so. The film is probably less interesting for itself than for comparison to other versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. There are some elements of the original story and not others. One can see what effect this subset of the original elements has.

The story takes place in China and deals with a male opera singer Sung Dan-ping (Jin Shan), who is in love with Xia (Woo Ping), the daughter of a powerful warlord. The warlord suspects Dan-ping of having connections to his enemy the Kuomintang (or KMT--the rival political faction led by Chiang Kai-shek). For that reason and because he wants to separate Dan-ping from his daughter he has his minions beat and whip Dan-ping and then throw caustic acid in Dan- ping's face, horribly disfiguring him. Dan-ping does not want Xia's pity and does not want her to see his deformed face. He arranges that she be told he is dead, but instead he goes into hiding. To fill his time he writes operas and he sings. In the dark of night he creeps out and sings to the moon. Only a handful of people know who the mysterious phantom singer is.

Now how is this different from the familiar versions of the story?

-- Dan-ping is never the powerful avenging spirit that Erik is in the PHANTOM. He is much more a figure of pity and nobility than the western Phantom is. He really wants vengeance only against the man who disfigured him and separated him from his love.

-- The Phantom's survival is not really secret. While it is not public knowledge apparently, multiple people seem to know the Phantom is Dan-ping and still alive. He just does not want Xia to know he is alive.

-- He does not have a melodramatic appearance with cape and similar folderol.

-- The story does not take place in the mysterious innards of a mysterious building like the opera house of the original. There is no dramatic chandelier sequence.

-- The Phantom is reduced from a figure of horror into simply a sympathetic victim whose goal is to just protect the woman he loves.

Weibang Ma-Xu both wrote and directed, basing his script on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. There are several touches of the film that seem to imply he based his style on Universal's horror films of the time or at the very least on the Lon Chaney version of story. The pace of most of the film is slow--it takes an hour before Dan-ping is deformed by the beating and the acid. We have a faster-paced climax with an angry mob of villagers with burning torches. Pieces of (Western) classical music create mood, as does shadowy, high-contrast photography. This is much Universal's style. However Universal may have returned the courtesy and taken an idea from SONG AT MIDNIGHT. In the Chinese film Dan-ping's face is deformed by caustic acid thrown in his face. The Lon Chaney version, accurate to the book, has the deformity a birth defect. However, when Universal remade THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA a second time, in 1943, Claude Rains became the Phantom when caustic acid is thrown in his face.

I cannot say that I feel entirely comfortable saying that this film really counts as a version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and that Brian DePalma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) does not. This version really invents more than it takes from the novel. Still I would not feel right disqualifying this film and not the 1989 Richard Englund version with its time travel and its mixing in of Faust. I have to draw the line somewhere. This stays in. As fun as the DePalma film is, I cannot fairly count it.

This film certainly counts as an adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel, and as far as Chinese films go it probably is a horror film. Still today it would probably be considered more melodrama than horror. There is a downloadable version of this film at Sadly, this version has no subtitles. However, two very effective sequences do not need subtitles. One is the scene where the bandages are removed from Dan-ping's face and the horribly distorted face beneath is revealed. This can be found starting about 0:58:00 minutes into the film. Then in the last finale minutes of the film Weibang Ma-Xu tries to outdo Universal in an exciting finale, and he actually succeeds. Watch starting at about 1:45:00.

Next week I will continue on with English-language adaptations of the story. [-mrl]

Baseball and (Science) Fiction (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Recently, on the Coode Street podcast, Jonanthan Strahan (Australian) and Gary K. Wolfe (American) made some interesting observations about baseball (in conjunction with the upcoming release of a new anthology of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories about baseball):

Strahan said that one reason more science fiction stories have been written about baseball than about all other sports combined is "I can't think of any other sport that has such a deliberate, clear, self-mythologizing to it."

To which Wolfe responded, "It is also a sport that is novelistic in structure in the sense that it doesn't have a clock. It's the only sport without a clock. It goes on as long as it needs to, just like a novel does. It doesn't have any restrictions in space or time. Baseball can theoretically go on to infinity; it doesn't ever have to stop. If there's a tie at the end of eighteen innings, it goes to nineteen innings. And it turns out that the field defined in baseball is not defined in militaristic grids as in most sports, but it's defined by essentially where you decide to build the outfield stands. In other words, the foul line in baseball, by definition (I gather), extends to infinity. It only stops when you build a stadium out there somewhere for it to stop. A third thing which people have pointed out, although this could be said of cricket as well, is that it's a character-versus-character sport. It is pitcher versus a batter, and batter versus a fielder, and so forth and so on. Every important interaction is two characters contesting, which is a novelistic kind of structure."

Strahan added, "Almost all these things are shared with cricket ... *but* the Commonwealth countries tend not to be quite so overtly self-mythologizing about it. ... Cricket used to share the timeless aspect to [baseball] as well before they reached a point where ... 'well, no, we can't practically do this,' because they were getting games that went on for two weeks."

[Wolfe credits Roger Kahn for the observation about space and time. The anthology is FIELD OF FANTASIES: BASEBALL STORIES OF THE STRANGE AND SUPERNATURAL edited by Rick Wilbur, which will be out in hardcover in October of 2014. There was an earlier anthology, BASEBALL 3000 edited by Frank D. McSherry, Jr.; Martin H. Greenberg; and Charles G. Waugh, but these were all science fiction only.]


Mark adds:

My high school English teach pointed out that baseball is a mythic game. You start at home, but you want to leave home. To do that you must face a challenge. If you face that ordeal and are successful you may go out into the world and travel. But even as you go, your goal is to return to the happiness and safety of home. [-mrl]

LUCY (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

LUCY just hit the theaters this weekend, and I put it on the top of my "to see" list. Directed, written, and edited by Luc Besson (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE TRANSPORTER, TAKEN, NIKITA, and THE PROFESSIONAL), LUCY combines Besson's interest in beautiful young women (Lucy is played by Scarlett Johansson) with SF and hard action. Also starring Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman, who has a theory that humans use only a part of their brain, LUCY is both scientifically implausible and at the same time a fun action picture with a good SF plot.

To enjoy the film, it is a requirement that the viewer suspend disbelief with regard to the ten percent of the brain myth (see ). It is simply untrue that humans only use 10% of our brains [or 20%, or whatever low figure is proposed]. We use 100% of our brains--all the time. This is not to suggest that there is no possibility that with the proper stimulus we might do more--consider the so-called "acquired savant syndrome" as an example. However, it is pretty much impossible that the ingestion of a large amount of an imaginary new drug CPH4 will cause a human to acquire god-like powers. It is also unlikely that the bite of a radioactive spider will allow a teenager to climb walls. And so on.

Paradoxically, once you have accepted the premise, LUCY is more plausible than similar recent films such as TRANSCENDANCE. Lucy's actions, feelings, and motivations seem quite reasonable to my view. At first she gains complete control over her body, and a heightened sense of humanity. This slowly fades as she gains control over other people, the E&M spectrum, the physical world, and finally time itself. She seeks to periodically connect with humans, but has a realistic understanding that she is going on a path that no mere human can follow. And her actions are finally selfless. Even as she transcends humanity completely, she leaves behind the secrets of the universe on a zip drive, along with the hopeful message that knowledge is always better than ignorance. Johansson portrays Lucy's transformation from whimpering party girl to superhuman to transhuman and finally to something akin to godhood without skipping a beat.

Evil is represented in LUCY by a Taiwanese drug lord, Mr. Jang, and his black-suited army of thugs. Good is represented by Dr. Norman and his colleagues, along with Del Rio and a considerable number of additional heroic French policemen. I rather liked Del Rio's bemused acceptance of the fantastic as he realizes he has been drafted by something akin to a goddess in her struggle against Mr. Jang. Some critics complain that Lucy is simply too powerful to be interesting, but her main struggle is to learn about herself and to finally control her destiny, not against the hapless drug smugglers.

Unlike TRANSCENDENCE, which left most confused and unhappy, LUCY ends on a clear and positive note. Lucy has moved beyond mere humanity, but that ultimate transcendence beckons in the surely overfull zip drive, stocked with the secrets of everything. Lucy hints that there is a reality beyond physics and mathematics that we can only comprehend by joining her. LUCY may be an implausible fantasy, but Lucy's final challenge is quite real.

SPOILER: It will rapidly become clear that Lucy is a pun of sorts that refers to the nickname of the original human, a female which scientists have nicknamed "Lucy." Johansson's character is named Lucy, but she is the "Lucy" of a new post-human species, and may well have been the source of the original ape-Lucy's human spark.

LUCY is an R-rated Luc Besson action movie, with a large amount of violence. There is no sex, but a certain amount of groping/rape threat. LUCY is similar in level of violence to NIKTA, and perhaps toned down a bit from the TRANSPORTER/TAKEN series. I'd suggest LUCY is okay for older teens and up, but only if you have some tolerance for movie violence. I'm rating this a +1, but rather like EDGE OF TOMORROW, it is a film SF fans ought to see that reminds me a lot of the sort of psionic superhuman stories that were prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s written SF. LUCY is also a beautiful film to watch with many excellent special effects. [-dls]

SEPTIC MAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A sewage worker will get a large reward if he goes into the sewer to fix a bad water contamination problem. But he never guessed all that is going on under his feet. Some of the same team who created the very original PONTYPOOL (2008) is back, though it is with an idea not so original and not nearly so satisfying. Tony Burgess directs. Try not to see the film just before dinner. Try not to see this film just after dinner either. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Horror films have a responsibility to shock the viewer and get a reaction. In PSYCHO, Alfred Hitchcock did it with a slasher's knife. The "Saw" films have vivid images of sadism. The writers of SEPTIC MAN know that we have an instinctive aversion to human waste and they use that to grab a viewer reaction. I am afraid that a new subgenre of the horror film is the process of being invented to stand beside the slasher film and the zombie film and the torture films. I am not sure what to call it. Calling it the "revulsion film" is too broad and the "fecal-horror film" may be too narrow. However, SEPTIC MAN is a film to stand beside the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films and be as disgusting, dubious as that distinction is.

The film opens, appropriately I suppose, with a woman on a toilet in the world's grungiest bathroom and vomiting. Some viewers probably join her. But she has little more connection to the main body of the film.

Jack (a.k.a. "Septic Man," played by Jason David Brown) is a kind of unsung hero that only another sewer worker would have appreciated. He is apparently a legend among sewer workers as he fixed a terrible backup of sewage a few years back and saved the Sewage Disposal Department and Collingwood, Ontario, from a terrible contamination problem. Now a few years later there is a terrible contamination problem in the same town, and everyone will be evacuated, including Jack's pregnant wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth) wants to get out while she can and wants Jack to come with her. But the sinister Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) is willing to pay Jack a hero's pay to go into the sewer system and fix everything. However, once Jack gets where he is going he finds himself trapped in a septic tank. And there is someone trying to kill him. This all sounds like satire and a thriller that Ed Norton of "The Honeymooners" could have written. It is however done deadpan seriously.

A problem with this film is that even though it was written by the same Tony Burgess who wrote the inventive PONTYPOOL in 2008, he and director Jesse Thomas Cook just did not have enough idea here to fill a film, even one only 83 minutes long. Burgess misjudges the scare factor of a man in a septic tank wandering around with little progress being made in the plot. Otherwise the septic tank was a good idea for the producers since how much can it cost to rent of septic tank and film on location? But wandering a septic tank is just insufficiently spooky. The truth is the fecal matter that plays an important part of this film is more implied than really present. We see more vomit than feces, lucky us. Though Jack does become encrusted with something unidentifiable. And still there is such an insufficiency of idea here that they throw in a chainsaw killer, perhaps giving the film a nice nostalgic feel even if it is only temporary.

As far as I could tell there was only one familiar face in the cast. The Mayor of Collingwood who appears only on a TV screen and does not interact with other actors is Stephen McHattie who among roles played the lead in PONTYPOOL.

One has the feeling throughout the film that there is more going on than meets the eye, though that is not the direction the film goes. I rate SEPTIC MAN a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. SEPTIC MAN will release in the US August 15.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


YESTERDAY'S KIN by Nancy Kress (copyright 2014, Tachyon Publications, $14.95, 189pp, ISBN 978-1-61696) (an excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices; a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Sitting down to read a new Nancy Kress story is much like sitting down with a cup of gourmet hot chocolate during the holiday season with your family all around you. It is, in a sense comfort food, but because it is gourmet hot chocolate you know it's going to be good.

And yet, there's family. In an ideal world, we would love to get along with all our family members, both immediate and extended, and *especially* those family members we haven't seen in a long time or those we haven't met. Maybe there's a long lost uncle--let's not worry about how much money he has, because really, how many long lost uncles are rich anyway?--that we didn't know we had. We'd love to get along with him, but there's just something about him that we do not trust.

YESTERDAY'S KIN is the latest cup of gourmet hot chocolate from Nancy Kress, and the central theme to the story is family. It just doesn't seem that way at first.

You see, aliens have arrived in New York City. They've mostly kept to themselves, not bothering the humans and at first, for the most part, humans aren't bothering them. That's because they have this protective energy shield over their "Embassy" in New York Harbor, where they have landed. In truth, humanity acted like you would expect humanity to act when aliens land on the planet. They're suspicious, worried, and frightened. But the Denebs, as they are called, appear to mean no harm to humanity.

Marianne Jenner is a geneticist, and she has just had a paper published in "Nature" magazine regarding her discovery of a thirty-first haplogroup of mitochondrial DNA in humans; previously, it was believed there were only thirty. This is a big step for Marianne in her career, and things appear to be looking up. What's not going so well for her is her relationship with her family. Daughter Elizabeth and son Ryan constantly fight with each other over mostly politically issues; Elizabeth is an isolationist while Ryan wants to open the U.S. borders to everyone. Ryan claims diversity will save the county, while Elizabeth argues that only by closing other countries out will the U.S. survive and prosper. Youngest son Noah is an enigma. He is a drifter, a loner, and is addicted to a drug called sugarcase, which temporarily changes his identity. Marianne doesn't hear from him for long stretches of time, and she worries about him more than she does the other two.

Marianne, by way of her paper, has come to the attention of the Denebs. While in the middle of the faculty party that is celebrating the publication of her paper, she is summoned by the Deneb via the FBI to come to Embassy. She and other scientists are the first to board the Embassy and see the aliens face to face. It is on the Embassy where humanity finds out a couple of things that shake it to the core. First, there is a deadly spore cloud in space that the earth will pass through in 10 months time; the spores are deadly to humans, with the end result being not unlike a drive-by shooting--the humanity will be wiped out. The second, which follows from the first, is that the Denebs are humans themselves, and in fact have that thirty-first haplogroup. The spore cloud killed a group of Deneb explorers, and since both Terrans and Denebs are humans, it follows that humanity will be wiped out much like the explorers were. Thus, we find out that the Denebs are on earth to ask for our help--and give us theirs--to stop the spores' deadly attack.

Marianne's role is a bit different. She is to put together a small group of scientists that will identify, from any volunteers that come in, those humans that have the thirty-first haplogroup. Family is important to the Denebs, and they want to find as many family members as they can.

As I said earlier, family really is the central theme of this book. How much do we love our families, how our families get along with each other, and how much trust there is between old family members as well as between old and new family members, the new family members in this case being the Denebs. And while this modern day version of "All in the Family" plays out in a manner that is engaging and thought provoking, I have a few quibbles with it. First is the addictive drug sugarcane. It seemed as if it was going to play an important part in the story of Noah and how he fits in to all of this, but as the tale progresses Kress seems to leave it by the wayside. It's quite possible I've missed something with regard to the sugarcane, but there it is. Second, if the Denebs are related to us, how did they get off planet to begin with, and how did they know they were humans themselves? What space faring race came and took them away from earth? Maybe I'm too used to the massive tomes we now get which explain everything about everything. (Which certainly wasn't necessary for 2001 to work, so why do I need it here? Maybe I've been conditioned to want complete explanations.), but while that fact was greeted by skepticism, it was never fully explored in the book. Third, I'm still curious as to what the actual point was in identifying humans that have the thirty-first haplogroup. Yes, those members of humanity that have the extra group are invited to travel back to "World" with the Denebs. But why? It seems to be a side-story that needs more investigation.

Still, those quibbles notwithstanding, I did enjoy YESTERDAY'S KIN. I just wish it were a larger cup of gourmet hot chocolate. [-jak]

WET BEHIND THE EARS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Sloan Copeland is co-producer/co-writer/director for a comedy of two women in their early twenties finding their plans and hopes killed by the sick economy. The film is a comedy with a serious, hard-as-rocks truth that a college degree is not assurance of a great future. This is a very good narrative until the last fifteen minutes and then all of a sudden the world turns rosy and the serious part of what has gone before gets blown away and replaced by a happy, happy contrived ending. One has a feeling that Copeland as the writer had a crisis of faith that the audience would want a more realistic closing to the film. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Samantha "Sam" Phelps (played by Margaret Keane Williams) has graduated college and is going out into the real world. But she has a plan. She is going to get a good job in advertising in Manhattan. She and her best friend Vicky (Jessica Piervicenti) are already renting a terrific two-bedroom apartment and will live together. There are minor problems with Vicky wanting spend outside their budget, but with two good paychecks things will probably work out. Sam is surprised that Vicky does not know how to manage money in the real world. But a bigger shock comes when Sam's great job in advertising falls through. Now Sam is in the job market and *nobody* is hiring. Eventually she takes the only job that is offered--she goes to work in a friend's father's ice cream store and moves back into her parents' house. As she puts it "Our whole lives have been preparing us for this moment, and I can't even get out of the starting gate." Oh, the shame of letting all her high school enemies find out that she cannot get a better job than scooping ice cream.

Meanwhile, Vicky cannot share the apartment with Sam so has to find a housemate to replace her. The film splits into an A-plot--Sam trying to get work and possibly a career--and a B-plot--Vicky trying to find a housemate. Both are suffering a bad case of great expectations slamming into a wall of reality.

For most of its length WET BEHIND THE EARS tells a fairly believable story of the sort of financial problems people will see in the real world. It engages the viewer and explores serious problems albeit with an edge of humor. Copeland manages to keep the film going and under control until he needs to end his story. Then the film flies completely off the rails. He has his characters commit a fairly serious crime--ironically one that rarely if ever shows up in a film--for which there are no consequences whatsoever. Samantha has been a sort of everywoman for women her age. All of a sudden she finds a way to show she has a monstrous talent and everything starts working for her. She shows the world that she really is a genius by doing something that she could have done 75 minutes earlier in the film. It is the most amazing reversal of fortune since GRAVITY.

This is Williams' first feature film and the camera seems to like her. There is something reminiscent of a young Tuesday Weld in her looks. Her greatest flaw is diction. She needs to preserve that freshness of youth while learning to annunciate a little better. Piervicenti more than keeps up with Williams as the hopeful housemate.

Though much of the film seems to be about today's economy, some elements seem out of date. A look at as breakfast table seems to have one item perfectly positioned for a product placement. Also we get some outtakes under the closing credits. And another reminder of the past, the New York City two-bedroom apartment seemed to have a surprisingly low rent.

This is the first film I have seen for which movie piracy is a major plot point. One would expect the film to be extremely opinionated on the subject, but the film says little more on the subject than that it is criminal. For a small, independent comedy WET BEHIND THE EARS is nicely polished. I would give it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I have written about how several of the Retro Hugo nominees were hard to find, and Loncon 3 finally released the Retro Hugo packet (less than a month before the voting deadline, so less than totally useful).

The novels in it are CARSON OF VENUS, GALACTIC PATROL, and LEGION OF TIME. Missing are OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET and THE SWORD IN THE STONE. This is not surprising--these are the two that still have substantial sales today. (I'll note that the regular Hugo packet had only excerpts from three of its five novel nominees, so in some sense this did better.) Because they are still so popular, people should have no trouble finding them.

Novella included are "Anthem" and "The Time Trap"; missing are "A Matter of Form", "Sleepers of Mars", and "Who Goes There?" The latter is probably the most widely available of all the short fiction, so it's not a major problem, and "A Matter of Form" has also been widely reprinted. "Sleepers of Mars" has been reprinted only four times, the last twenty-seven years ago.

Novelettes included are "Werewoman", "Pigeons From Hell", and "A Link to Hollywood on the Moon". Missing are "Dead Knowledge" and "Rule 18". The former is available in a NESFA collection and most recently a British collection of the same name, but the latter remains basically unavailable to those who have no access to the original magazine publication. (It seems to have been reprinted once, from a minor publisher in Britain, in 1990.)

Short stories included are "Helen O'Loy", "The Faithful", "Hyperpilosity", and "Hellerbochen's Dilemma"; missing is "How We Went to Mars", which is available in the definitive Clarke collection, although nowhere else. It's first publication was in the magazine (fanzine?) "Amateur Science Stories", so I wouldn't count on finding that in your local library either.

I realize that they can only include what they get permission for, but this seems to indicate that it is harder to get permission for older works than for newer ones. This could be because a newer writer gets a big career boost from winning a Hugo, even for short fiction, while none of the Retro Hugo nominees are even still alive.

THE CORONER'S LUNCH by Colin Cotterill (ISBN 978-1-56947-376-4) is the first in Cotterill's series about Dr. Siri Paiboun, chief coroner in Vientiane, Laos. This one is set in 1976; shortly after a Communist government was installed in Laos, and there are currently eight more in the series. Cotterill blends murder mystery, political commentary, humor, and the supernatural, and manages to make it work.

The political commentary is of two sorts: the internal thoughts of the main character about the political situation, and such descriptions as, "The Lao Women's Union was housed in a two-storey building whose frontage was overgrown with flowering shrubs. They'd been tended to look natural but were kept under total control"--not unlike the populace as well, one imagines.

Cotterill has a breezy style and although there is a fair amount of police involvement, the book is not as graphic as many police procedurals. One is reminded of Agatha Christie, or perhaps of Sven Hjerson, the Finnish detective of Christie's mystery writer character, Ariadne Oliver. (Many also make the obvious comparison to Alexander McCall Smith's "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series.) I am looking forward to reading more Dr. Paiboun stories.

And I also read KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT by Colin Cotterill (ISBN 978-0-312-56453-7), the first of his "Jimm Juree" series. (Just as Agatha Christie had both Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, and Alexander McCall Smith has both Mma Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie, Cotterill has his two detectives.) Jimm was a crime reporter in Chiang Mai, Thailand, before having to move to southern Thailand. But soon enough she is involved in investigating several murders, along with her semi-senile mother, her close-mouthed grandfather, her transgender sister, a gay policeman, a monk, and a nun. Okay, it does sound like an assortment of "funny hats," but Cotterill makes it work.

REVISIONING 007: JAMES BOND AND CASINO ROYALE edited by Christoph Lindner (ISBN 978-1-906660-19-2) is an academic collection, so unless you are reading this as an assignment, some articles will be more interesting (or coherent) than others. Why more coherent? Well, because some say things like, "However, I want to go beyond a discussion of [Daniel] Craig's body by considering it in terms of and within a spatial dialectic that highlights the relationship between the action and context. The primitive quality of Craig's performance, its lack of polish and hence, peculiar incompatibility with the Bond tradition, emerges through his relationship in space. Indeed, my focus is less on the brute force of Craig's 007 and more on the unstructured and tactical integration of body in space that he makes possible."

On the other hand, Will Schiebel's "The History of CASINO ROYALE On (and Off) Screen" is a great introduction to the topic, and covers not just the original book and both feature films, but also the television play and the comic strip. Douglas L. Howard's "*Do I Look Like I Give a Damn?': What's Right about Getting It wrong in CASINO ROYALE" appeals to the nit-picker in me, analyzing the changes made to the mythos, what purpose they serve, and how well they work. Monika Gehlawat's analysis of the African chase sequence (in "Improvisation, Action and Architecture in CASINO ROYALE"), comparing Bond's "brute-force" approach with Mollaka's "parkour" style adds so much to the viewer's understanding of the characters. And if you are interested in the treatment of gender issues, even the essays not specifically discussing it all take a shot at it. (Much of this is in somewhat incomprehensible technical jargon, but I get the impression that not everyone agrees on what the latest CASINO ROYALE is trying to say about women or gender issues.)

Most books about the Bond films rely on plot summaries and production anecdotes, with a few paragraphs discussing political, social, or psychological issues (e.g., noting that the freedom fighters that Bond helps in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS later turned into the Taliban in the real world). Here the authors do a much deeper analysis, in part because even if each one has no more pages to work within than would be devoted to a single film in a "James Bond films" book, each author picks one aspect of CASINO ROYALE and spends all of his or her time on that.

Our discussion book for this month was THE DEMOLISHED MAN by Alfred Bester (ISBN 978-1-596-87988-1). I know it is a classic, but I could barely follow it. We had earlier read Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION, and while I was not wild about that either, it was considerably better than this one. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Dogs feel very strongly that they should always 
          go with you in the car, in case the need should 
          arise for them to bark violently at nothing right 
          in your ear.
                                          --Dave Barry

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