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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/26/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 13, Whole Number 1825
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
October 2: MONA LISA (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM October 9: PI (film) and "The Gimatria of Pi" by Lavie Tidhar (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/gimatria.htm) (short story), 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 6: TBD (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM 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 4: THE APARTMENT (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM 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): October 4: Mary SanGiovanni, 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 October (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the things I appreciate about Turner Classic Movies is that they show science fiction, horror, and fantasy films without being condescending or patronizing. As popular as were the horror hosts of years ago, even they did not take the films seriously. They reflected their television stations' attitudes that horror and fantasy films are less worthy than films that were not part of the genre. They would not think of having a comical host of a weekly Frank Sinatra or Humphrey Bogart movie. But they sneer at obvious escapism and fantasy as if it is of less value. Horror hosts generally were more interested in being comedians than in actually presenting the films they showed. If anything, the way they handled fantasy films was a lot like the way they handled kids' cartoon shows. But TCM treats science fiction, horror, and fantasy films for what they are, an important genre that constitutes a respectable part of cinema history. Robert Osborne, their host, treats the films with perhaps sometimes more respect than they deserve. Who knows what he really thinks, but he and TCM treat the genre with respect. That policy is particularly appreciated in the month of October with their Halloween films.
But the news is not all good. One would think that showing so many
fantasy/horror films in October would make this a terrific month
for fantasy film watching. Sadly, they have long since run through
their obscure horror films for the month. The month is much better
for getting neophyte fantasy fans up to speed than it is for the
long-time fans. The films being shown on a Halloween theme are
probably films that most of the fans have seen, frequently multiple
times. They can always be enjoyed again, of course. About the
most interesting horror item they have to show this year is their
own reconstruction of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). The film is
lost, but there are enough stills to recreate the story with stills
and the soundtrack. This is the vampire mystery starring Lon
Chaney, Sr., which was directed by Tod Browning. The remake, MARK
OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), is still around and readily available.
Turner will show both versions this month back-to-back. [LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT: Friday, October 31, 6:00 AM] [MARK OF THE VAMPIRE: Friday, October 31, 7:00 AM]
Of some special interest for fans of Universal's Dracula films is
Columbia Films's THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944). Randall Faye
and Griffin Jay wrote it as what was generally believed to be a
sequel to DRACULA (1931). Universal did not buy the script so the
script had a little superficial doctoring to rename Dracula to
Armand Tesla and rename Renfield to Andreas. A little more touch-
up turns Renfield into a werewolf. (Universal was doing well with
the Lawrence Talbot stories so perhaps the writers thought it would
work here.) But watching the film and ignoring the renaming one
can certainly see it as a film in the Universal series. Seeing it
that way is a little more fun. Columbia does not quite capture the
Universal horror film texture but one really can see in it the film
it was meant to be. It is at least as good as any of the remaining
Universal Dracula films.
[THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE: Tuesday, October 28, 11:45 AM]
Back in 1990 my friends were excited that the film THE HUNT FOR RED
OCTOBER was coming out. Me, I was less impressed. RED OCTOBER is
about people riding big, comfortable machines outguessing each
other. The film I was looking forward to that year was MOUNTAINS
OF THE MOON the true story of two men setting across uncharted
Africa, facing hostile tribes, wild animals, swamps, deadly
diseases and really vicious insects, and even more vicious
tribesmen. On such an expedition you are lucky if most of you will
return, but it will probably not be intact. MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON
is about the Burton-Speke expedition to central Africa. No, it
isn't science fiction. It all takes place on Earth and is, in
fact, a true story. MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is the account of what
happened on and around the Burton-Speke Expedition. Richard
Francis Burton was an adventurer and scholar. He could speak 29
languages and was a master of disguise. He was the first non-
Moslem to (in disguise) visit Mecca. Burton was the first to
translate A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS into a Western language--
English. He also translated a lot of sexually explicit literature
that scandalized Victorian society. Burton was an expert soldier
and swordsman and wrote a history of swords. And he was an
explorer. Look him up. His most famous expedition he made with
John Hanning Speke to find the sources of the Nile River. Multiple
countries depended on the Nile for life and the sources needed to
be found to understand the river's behavior. So a small company of
men led by Burton and Speke set off to find where the river came
from. The friendship and rivalry of the two men and their African
adventures made headlines worldwide. The film account of the story
of the expedition is MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON. And for more African
adventure Turner is also showing THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) directed
by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.
[MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON: Friday, October 17, 12:15 AM]
[THE AFRICAN QUEEN: Friday, October 3, 8:00 PM]
My choice for best film of the month? About the only standout I see is NETWORK (1976) [Tuesday, October 7, 9:45 PM] or perhaps THE AFRICAN QUEEN. [-mrl]
Memory (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We were watching a movie with clones; I do not want to say which one, because the clone aspect is supposed to be a surprise, and in fact is a surprise to one of the clones who has lived in isolation. However, there is a reference to a clone army, and someone wondered whether those clones did not realize they were clones.
But why should they? We know that everyone (except identical twins) looks different, but if the clones don't know that, they would just think it was normal. (Japanese people don't think it strange that everyone there has black hair, for example.)
The movie also covers itself by having the main character talk about a "memory wipe" that he has had "for security reasons." One might ask why they bothered let him know that. If a clone is created with a blank slate for a mind, then they do not know that people *have* memories, or what those memories cover. So either give the clone no "false" memory (as was done), or wipe their memory (if they have one) and do not tell them you have done so. In either case, the clone will not remember anything before a certain date, and will not have any reason to think that is odd. [-ecl]
FIELD OF LOST SHOES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: FIELD OF LOST SHOES recounts the story of the 1864 Civil War battle of New Market. In Virginia this battle is remembered primarily because student-cadets from the nearby VMI were pressed into service to fight the battle with some laying down their lives. Sean McNamara directs a script by Thomas Farrell and Dave Kennedy. Some of the style is reminiscent of Ronald Maxwell's films GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
The Battle of New Market, Sunday, May 15, 1864, is not generally considered to be one of the most important engagements of the American Civil War. Ulysses S Grant's plan was to come between Robert E. Lee's army and the Shenandoah Valley, the valley being the agricultural source of much of what Lee's army needed to eat. The battle might have shortened the war had Grants plan succeeded, but the plan was foiled by troops under General John C. Breckinridge. Lee was still able to collect the harvest in the valley. What is best remembered is that the battle took place near VMI, the Virginia Military Institute, and that student cadets at VMI as young as 14 had their studies interrupted as they were called to fight in a real battle. Some of the cadets had not just their studies but also their lives stopped. They are still revered on the campus with a monument and six graves across the street from the parade grounds at VMI. There were 247 cadets who fought, more than 50 were casualties, and 10 were killed. The cadets who gave their lives and all 247 who fought are remembered each year in an annual memorial ceremony at VMI.
John Wise (played as a boy by Sean Ryan Fox and as a cadet by Luke Benward) is growing up in Virginia the son of a Governor who believes in the abolition cause while young John is more loyal to the State of Virginia. Early in the film the father makes his point effectively. We flash forward when John is one of a small group of friends training at VMI. After a little rough treatment to an incoming freshman, they adopt him into their group. From there the film shows a little bit of what life was like for the VMI cadets including some romantic entanglements. But before it grows tiresome the story turns to the Federal troops under the command of General Franz Sigel invading the Shenandoah Valley. And as a military necessity the entire class of VMI was called to fight together with the southern troops led by General Breckinridge--a former Vice President of the United States.
In writing a Civil War battle film it is nearly impossible to avoid the issue of slavery. That was a great deal of what the South was fighting for. In GETTYSBURG (1993) writer/director Ronald Maxwell had some detached conversation on both sides about slavery, but the conversation was kept on an academic level and did not do much to viscerally involve the viewer. In GODS AND GENERALS (2003) again written and directed by Maxwell Stonewall Jackson has a good faithful slave who travels with Jackson and together they talk about the time when the slaves will be freed. Neither film grabbed the viewer and rubbed his nose in the inhumanity of slavery. In fact, no notable film I know really did that to the viewer until 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013), which was why we needed that film. FIELD OF LOST SHOES cannot show the worst excesses of slavery, but what it does show is realistic and bad enough to make its point. This film's writers could not devote the entire story to that issue as 12 YEARS A SLAVE did. Still, they could confront the conflicting principles head-on unlike Maxwell's approach. FIELD OF LOST SHOES in the first minutes of the film tells us in no uncertain terms what kind of holy horror slavery was. The film then shows the cadets from VMI as being gallant in their way but at the same time only one had really thought of the serious issues of the war. We see both sides without equivocation and the viewer can decide how to react.
Much of this film appears to have been shot in and around the VMI campus where the story takes place. It may look just a bit too spic and span and civil war soldiers seem unrealistically to be in well-laundered uniforms. Familiar faces in the cast include Keith David, David Arquette, and Tom Skerritt as General Grant. Frankly, it is a real pleasure to see a new film in which the heroes wear Civil War uniforms and not superhero spandex. I would rate FIELD OF LOST SHOES a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2477218/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/field_of_lost_shoes/
BELIEVE ME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What starts as a light college comedy builds to a much more serious film with complex moral issues. A college senior who seems to be majoring in partying and extreme Christianity needs money to pay a tuition bill before he can graduate. With three friends he invents a phony charity supposedly to send them on a religious mission to Africa. The four take their bogus appeals on a cross-country tour of prayer meetings and calls for donations. Some of the comedy is light and funny, but the moral impact of the fraud begins to catch up with the boys. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Sam (played by Alex Russell) is a senior in college whose spare time is spent in parties and in church. He discovers that his scholarship has run out and he needs $9000 to graduate. He and three friends (Sinqua Wallace, Max Adler, and Miles Fisher) make up a false story that he will be going to do missionary work in Lesotho, an enclave of South Africa. They run some religious shows where there is insincere preaching and collections for his supposed "mission," now dubbed "Project Get Wells Soon". Sam discovers he has a talent for convincing audiences that he is sincere and dedicated. On the road with a musician, Gabriel (Zachary Knighton), and the attractive tour manager Callie (Johanna E. Braddy). As they go, the four study what it takes to really fit in with the religious crowd.
Most of the actors have not been playing in places where I have been looking. Most familiar is Christopher McDonald who played an overripe TV host in Darren Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Here his manager of the traveling show is nicely ambiguous. He seems easier to like than to trust, which adds a nice edge to the film. A very good choice is Johanna Braddy as Callie. Ms. Braddy has a great deal of screen presence and is a definite asset to the film. Sam, the main character, is played by Alex Russell who has a touch of cynicism in his face that fits the character well.
The film was produced by Riot Studios who seem to be sticking to religious films aimed at the Southeast high school and college market. The film packs a lot of Christian message not so much in the film's main theme, which would be tiresome, but in the collateral dialog and in showing the performances of the travelling show. Only one line really rankles, however. The character Tyler, who is the moral compass of the four friends, reminds the others that they will be "stealing from Christians" As if that was worse than simple stealing. The film is written by Will Bakke and Michael B. Allen and directed by Bakke.
It would be easy to come away feeling BELIEVE ME was a religious bait-and-switch with an especially Christian message. At least it does not say that belief in Jesus fixes everything. And it does pact some ethical issues of some complexity. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3107070/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/believe_me/
DRIVE HARD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A former car racer, now a driving instructor, finds himself an involuntary getaway driver when a phony student robs a bank. You have probably seen it all before, but the witty repartee between the mysterious criminal and his hapless victim does keep things on an entertaining level. Cult director Brian Trenchard- Smith, directs and co-authors a film for car-chase fans with not a lot of plot to get in the way. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
In Queensland and the Gold Coast of Australia, American-born driving teacher, Peter Roberts (played by Thomas Jane), has dreams of getting back on the car racing circuit for some more high-speed driving. He gets no family encouragement but he still dreams, however. Right now he is making his living teaching. But he gets his chance to drive fast again when one of his students--maybe a little old for being a student--asks him to make a five-minute stop at a bank. Simon Keller (John Cusack) uses the five minutes to rob the bank, and suddenly Roberts finds he is a getaway driver and the subject of a police manhunt. He finds he has very little support when he contacts his wife and daughter, but Keller is happy to give Roberts a little life advice while the two run from the police and assorted gun-happy citizens.
The plot is neither creative nor complex. Mostly it is an excuse for a series of medium-speed and medium-octane car chases and even laid-back driving. The back-story of Keller and a bunch of gang- owned banks really gets short shrift. Throughout Keller just talks to Roberts. And he turns out to be fairly straight-up and really concerned to see Roberts get out of this car chase alive and then go home and fix up his dysfunctional relationship with his wife. The relationship is one in which Roberts cannot even admit to himself that he is dissatisfied. In some ways Keller is a poor- man's answer to the Tom Cruise character in COLLATERAL, only with a more sympathetic heart.
The title and the poster promise hard, tire-spinning action. The poster probably was designed before the filming actually started. Instead, the action scenes all seem to be somehow blunted and soft. The dialog and action is contrived not to lose the viewers' regard for either of the two main characters. They may leave someone dead after they have been attacked, but what happens is the other guy accidentally killing himself. Brian Trenchard-Smith has a good reputation on Australia's action grind-house circuit, but he is toning the action down and avoiding sharp edges here. The story seems too tame and nowhere near as exciting as the poster makes it look. Even the look of the film is a little cheap.
The film is actually Canadian-produced, but it is shot in Queensland. The dialog exchange is amusing but otherwise, without films like this, cable TV would have nothing to show at 2 AM. I rate it a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. DRIVE HARD will be in some theaters September 26, 2014.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2968804/combined
LonCon 3 (2014 Worldcon) (Part 4) (convention report by Dale L. Skran):
Sunday, August 17, 2014
10:00 [10 am] "The Spies we (Still) Love"
I missed the very beginning of this panel, which was held in a double room. Some of the moderators at LonCon 3 had the odd habit of merely noting audience questions or inputs, thus creating the impression that they were trying to avoid particular topics, something that was on display here. This panel attempted a decade- by-decade review of filmed and written spy fiction of significance. The result was an odd mix of comments, with an insular British feel. A number of the panelists were great enthusiasts of SPOOK (MI5 in the United States). I've seen at least ten episodes, and although far from the worst TV spy show, it felt like an overly contrived show with each plot vetted by a staff of politically correct censors. Situations related to the real world were generally avoided, and a long string of unlikely villains paraded, including rogue Mossad agents creating fake terrorist incidents and so on. As was the case in other panels, the participants seemed unaware of American TV in general. When the important American SF/Spy show ALIAS was mentioned by an audience member, the moderator merely nodded and moved on. Whether this was due to his dislike of the show or that he simply knew nothing about it is hard to say. Oddly, the silly and forgettable CHUCK received a great deal of attention from the panel. Overall I thought that this was a weak group of panelists with little of interest to convey.
11:00 [11 am] "The Globalization of Space: What's Up?"
I arrived late and missed the opening slides on the CubeSat revolution. This science track talk by Jonathan McDowell was dense with statistics and charts. There is a lot that could be said about this talk, but it is hard to summarize. One point that jumps out is that by raw numbers commercial and research satellites lead but by tonnage human spaceflight is dominant. There has also been a clear decline in overall tonnage after Apollo/ISS construction completion but an increase in raw numbers of satellites with the advent of CubeSats.
12:00 [12 noon] "Should We Trash the Planet on the Way to the Stars?"
This science track panel, which included Greg Benford, not unsurprisingly concluded that, barring end of the world scenarios, that answer was NO! This was followed by an interesting discussion of the possibilities of commercial space opening the high frontier, and Mr. Benford firing a broadside at the Johnson Space Flight center "space drive" research (he thinks it's is all experimental error). The panel was held in one of the smallest rooms, and was possibly not a good example of con committee planning. I got a seat only by arriving very early.
14:30 [2:30 pm] "Taking the Initiative: Why we have to start planning for an Interstellar Future Now"
The speaker, a Mr. Keith Cooper, had lost his slides for some reason, and delivered his talk without them. I also came in a bit late to this talk. Cooper, who presumably represented the I4IS (Initiative for Interstellar Studies), gave a Rick Tumlinson type rah-rah talk.
15:00 [3:00 pm] "I4IS: 100 Years to Interstellar Travel with the International Space University" This talk by Chris Welch of the ISU focused on their plans for a summer course in the design of worldships, and was basically a review of ISU interstellar work followed by a course outline. Welch is a VP of the BIS. I found the talk very interesting, but it might be a bit dry for some tastes.
15:30 [3:30 pm] "Living Starships--How life and Machines can Explore the Cosmos in Partnership"
Rachael Armstrong's talk left an impression on me. Every once in a while you see a speech that seems to be one of  a work of genius,  complete BS and self-promotion, or  the ravings of a Dr. Frankenstein (but possibly still a work of genius). The talk focused on body modification and evolving the Earth into a starship as a prototype for a generation ship. Ms. Armstrong, who appears to have been a medical doctor before her current adventures in architecture and sustainable design presented a kaleidoscope of intriguing and disturbing images at a rapid pace. There was a distinctly Dr. Moreau feeling to the talk, which although it bowed at the icons of political correctness, seemed like it was going to end up on an island with Dr. Armstrong about to do a head transplant on an African "volunteer."
16:00 [4:00 pm] "The Pros and Cons of Interstellar Travel in Science Fiction"
This "science" track panel featured a one-man show by Alastair Reynolds, who reviewed the treatment of interstellar travel in SF. It was an excellent overview of the history of classic SF related to interstellar travel, well illustrated by old magazine and book covers. Themes included "the generation ship that lost its way," the "generation ship that was overtaken," and "the ship that could not stop." This was a great example of the kind of talk you would like to see at a good Worldcon. It was easy to follow, stimulating, and provided lots of reading suggestions.
16:30 [4:30 pm] "Our Interstellar Future"
Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds were the main draws of this science panel organized by I4IS. It was interesting to note that virtually all the panelists thought that the first interstellar robotic probe would be launched during the 21st century, and that it would use lasers/solar sails to accelerate to a fly-by mission profile, with the Centauri system the most likely target as it is the closest. There also seemed to be a widespread view that there is a strong chance that new telescopes like the James Webb will detect evidence of life in distant solar systems, and perhaps even pollution spectral lines indicating "modern" civilization. It was also generally agreed that human interstellar travel was a ways off, although the hundred-year starship project is targeted toward creating the basis for a generation ship in a hundred years. There is also some substantial uncertainty concerning whether humans would go to the stars "as humans" (or as uploads, etc.) and as to whether a warp drive might be possible.
18:00 [6:00 pm] "From Embryo Screening to Embryo Engineering"
This science track panel featured a solid set of mostly female panelists discussing modern reproductive technologies. The panel's output can be distilled down to a few main conclusions  artificial wombs are difficult and will not arrive soon, but there is strong motivation to create them for premature infants so work will continue,  human reproductive cloning is hard and not on the near-term horizon, although cloning of animals is important in both research and husbandry,  pre-implantation diagnosis will be of increasing importance but does not make production of "designer" babies possible, and  genetics is complicated--don't hold your breath on anyone finding the gene for intelligence anytime soon. A fifth implied conclusion is that "kids with three parents" using mitchondrial DNA transplants to fix specific genetic defects will be the first real "germ-line engineering" to be adopted, at least in England. An English body of boffins has ruled that the mitochondrial DNA contributor cannot be considered a parent since their influence on the genotype is so small.
Overall, this was a well-informed and interesting panel. Towards the end, I asked the panel what they thought the impact of CRISPR ("clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats") might be. None of them had heard of CRISPR. Fortunately, the head of the Brown University transgenetic lab was in the audience, and she had started doing CRISR very recently. CRISPR is a technique for gene editing that greatly increases the accuracy of the gene insertion/removal, and greatly speeds up the pace of gene engineering research. My take-away is that the field is moving faster--and unless you are on the cutting edge, you may not know what is going on. One of the panelists was four years removed from being in the lab, which appears to be plenty of time to fall behind! Gene therapy and genetic engineering have been a long time in coming. As always, the short-term impact is less than expected, but in the long term amazing stuff happens.
20:00 [8 pm] "The 2014 Hugo Awards Ceremony" The ceremony started a bit late, and the approach taken was of having two persons who I did not know introduce pairs of more famous folks to actually give the awards. This worked fairly well, but is not the same as having Bob Silverberg or Neil Gaiman as the MC. ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie won Best Novel. This was completely unsurprising based on everything I'd read and what I'd heard on panels at LonCon 3. ANCILLARY JUSTICE is a remarkable first novel, and I look forward to more from Leckie. The short fiction awards were notable in that all of them appeared on-line (tor.com) and not in SF magazines. This seems to represent a turning of the tide as the traditional SF print magazines become less and less relevant.
I was okay with GRAVITY winning the Hugo for best dramatic presentation--long form. I would have been happy with any of the other nominees winning as well. I have seen them all, and the worst of them is good, although not all in the same way. I was delighted to see "The Rains of Castamere" ("Game of Thrones") win the Hugo for best dramatic presentation--short form. This award was notable since I believe for possibly the first time, and certainly one of the few times, the actual Hollywood writers of "Rains" appeared on stage to receive the award(*). It is, of course, disappointing that the large number of "Doctor Who" episodes nominated prevented the recognition of many worthy SF shows, but seeing the Whoites lose again provided some small measure of satisfaction that SF fans have not gone completely bonkers. The "Doctor Who" clips shown were simply embarrassing and reminded me of why I did not like "Doctor Who".
The final area of awards worthy of special mention was the complete "sweep" by Kameron Hurley, who received the Hugo for Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work (WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT: CHALLENGING THE WOMEN, CATTLE, AND SLAVES NARRATIVE), and potentially brought about via her popularity a Hugo for Best Fanzine for "A Dribble of Ink," which published WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT. Hurley was apparently too busy to appear at LonCon 3 to receive these awards, but instead supplied speeches for surrogates to read. Her speech for Best Related Work was along the lines of other Hugo acceptance speeches, but that for Best Fan writer can be most politely described as an angry screed. I went on-line and quickly was able to find and read WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT [FYI--I did not vote this year, and generally don't vote in the Best Fan Writer/Best Fanzine category]. WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT is an essay expounding "angry feminism" that is perhaps more clever/literate than most such efforts. It is hard to argue with the main thrust of the essay (women are often overlooked) but easy to quibble with historical details that are referred to (although I leave this to others). It is also interesting to note that WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT is as much concerned with Hurley's difficulty in expunging misogyny from her own writing as it is with how women are treated in SF in general.
In any case, my reaction is that Hurley is beating the drums for a cause that has won, and indeed is now dominant in SF fandom and publishing. Let's take a brief look at the 2014 Hugo awards. Among the literary awards, 2 out of 4 were won by women (Leckie and Mary Robinette Kowal), including the premier award for Best Novel, and if we include Best Related Work, 3 out of 5. One appears to have gone to a gay Asian man, so the "straight white man" total is 1 of 5 literary awards. Both editing awards were won by women (Ellen Datlow and Ginger Buchanan). In the area of dramatic presentation, GRAVITY is notable in being a successful SF/action/adventure film with a female lead (Sandra Bullock) and "Game of Thrones" is widely admired for its strong female characters (and yes, dunned for an abundance of gratuitous T&A). Topping it off, Best Fan Artist (Sarah Webb) and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New writer (Sofia Samatar) both went to women. [-dls]
(*) Actually, the director and writer of GALAXY QUEST were at Chicon 2000. [-ecl]
Neil deGrasse Tyson (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to Mark's comments on Neil deGrasse Tyson in the 09/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
My wife and I attended a talk by NdT a few years ago at [The] Ohio State University. This was after the Pluto kerfuffle but well before Cosmos, i.e., before he achieved Science Rock Star status. I had seen him on TV a few times and found him enjoyable but not particularly compelling. In person he blew us away. He was extremely dynamic with amazing enthusiasm and ability to engage an audience. All without animation shooting from his fingertips. I think his current career is probably due to his developing those qualities and learning to communicate them on television, and the animation may be Kaizen (continuous improvement) on his part to avoid standing still. [-no]
The First Law of Convention Rooms (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Evelyn's comments on room sizes at conventions in the 09/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
On "'The First Law of Convention Rooms': No matter how many times convention planners are reminded, and no matter how many conventions they have attended, they will never remember that science panels are way more popular than they expect":
Mine were jammed, especially the Interstellar one Sunday. I find my fans go to them, and discussion is usually better too.
You'd have liked LonCon, too! [-gb]
Ayn Rand (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In elaboration of his comments on Ayn Rand in the 06/20/14 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
It is the writing of ANTHEM that I described as toxic brain sludge: stilted, unnatural, affected diction, like listening to a bad accent, or trying to read page after page of someone's attempt to write in a dialect they don't understand. Reading it hurts my brain. I saw some pages of a comic that adapted it, and they had the same effect.
As I said, ATLAS SHRUGGED is entertaining in an alternate-reality way, where one accepts the author's premises and moves on. Naturally, the idea that one is probably a superman, and only being held back by the horror of having to consider others (and their contribution) is appealing to some adolescents, but the repulsiveness of other ideas entertained by the writer (particularly that rape is the highest form of love) caused me to step back and question the precepts of the books, with the result that, apart from one or two valid observations (like Toohey's "Give it up, give it up, give it up" speech in THE FOUNTAINHEAD), I rejected all of it.
They are enjoyable escape fiction, and not much more. I've tried to penetrate Rand's nonfiction, and it's as hard as understanding recordings of her talking--for different reasons, of course.
The fact they are still in print is perhaps due to the desire of some people to believe in their superiority at any cost, but I haven't interviewed each of those purchasers, or even verified that they read it at all.
Sorry I don't have time for more. [-kw]
Hugo Awards for Dramatic Presentations (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Dale's comments on the Hugo Awards for Dramatic Presentations in the 09/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Dale writes,] "It seems clear that the only possible way justice can ever be done is to create a new Hugo--'Best Dramatic Presentation, Series' with a limitation to the episode length that it must be more than thirty minutes and less than sixty minutes. This is just a way of removing from consideration a series of long form movies and also excluding very short presentations of different kinds. It is certainly possible that 'Doctor Who' will win in both the episode and the series categories, but at least a much larger number of SF/fantasy TV/Webcast series will receive recognition."
I am completely and utterly with you on this one, Dale, except for the provision 'less than sixty minutes,' which is just a way of removing from consideration any UK series with ninety-minute episodes. At the moment this affects only detective series (FOYLE'S WAR, GENTLY), but potentially this might affect stf TV at some point--perhaps appropriately--in the future. [-tmb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford (ISBN 978-0-446-61159-6) was this month's science fiction choice. Coincidentally, the book, though written in 1977, is mostly set in 2014. (Well, it turns out that in the second edition, that was moved to 2034, but then it's less interesting to read in 2014.) The novel is not supposed to be a study of Earth in 2014, of course--it is primarily a first contact novel. But when one reads about how there are no more private cars because of fuel shortages/conservation, it is impossible to avoid comparing that with the actual current situation. And when a character in *2019* says he cannot get used to giving a dollar bill for a newspaper and getting no change, well, one has to smile at Benford's optimism.
ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND LIVES!: A WORLD WITHOUT WORLD WAR I by Richard Ned Lebow (ISBN 978-1-137-27853-1) is a very frustrating book. On the one hand, Lebow is thorough in looking at all aspects of the world: politics, art, literature, social conditions, economics, science, ... everything. Since most authors of alternate history do not do this, this was quite welcome. But this is more a non-fiction book than a novel.
However, Lebow does miss some things, even though they are the obvious next step. For example, his "best world ... avoids two World Wars, the Holocaust, The Russian Civil War, the Soviet Union and communism, and the deaths of almost 100 million people. [But there] is a price: tolerance of all kinds is delayed, as are the scientific and engineering breakthroughs that lead to antibiotics ..." What he doesn't say is that since antibiotics have saved more than 100 million lives in the 20th century, his avoidance of the deaths of 100 million people is more than canceled out. Later he postulates in one of his counterfactual worlds that although their was no influenza epidemic in 1918, there would be one in the 1940s that would kill 100 million people. Again, this also cancels out the numbers in our world, but more, it points out that many of the decisions he is making about his counterfactual worlds are purely arbitrary. There is nothing in that world that would seem to make an epidemic inevitable. Lebow admits this, saying merely that everything he theorizes is possible, and at least reasonably likely.
More worrisome, he also gets some facts wrong. Contrary to what Lebow says, Adolf Hitler was *not* born Adolf Schickelgruber. His father was born Alois Schickelgruber, but had his name changed to Hitler twelve years before Adolf was born. Lebow also has Isaac Asimov writing science fiction in Odessa and coming up with his laws of robotics there. Since it is now thought that these were heavily influenced, if not actually created, by John W. Campbell, Jr., Asimov's creation of them on his own is not likely. (He also has Asimov writing a series about the decline of a galactic empire, but intertwined with the story of "the survival of a much maligned but creative ethnic group.")
I also have to note that the index is spotty. There are a lot of pages for "anti-Semitism", but none for "Jews". Though Lebow talks about antibiotics several times, you cannot look these references up in the index. He does not address how World War I resulted in greater independence for Canada and other Commonwealth countries, who (according to a Canadian friend of mine) told Britain after the war, "Next time *we* get to decide if and where we're going to send troops into battle, okay?"
I really wanted to like this book, but without the characters and plot line of a traditional alternate history that uses the historical events as a background and motivating force, this merely gives you three possible backgrounds. (Lebow does try to track the lives of a few famous people from our world, as noted above, but again, this is basically background.) Since the number of backgrounds is effectively infinite, just picking three does not result in a satisfying book.
MY REAL CHILDREN by Jo Walton (ISBN 978-0-7653-3265-3) is an alternate history, but a bit unusual. The main character, Patricia, is given the choice early on to marry her fiancee or not. The novel then splits into two strands of alternating chapters, one in which shoe does and one in which she doesn't, one in which there are a series of limited nuclear exchanges and one in which there aren't, one in which Patricia finds one sort of happiness and one in which she finds another. While there are enough changes on the big scale to make this alternate history, there is not enough connection between Patricia's actions and the historical variations to make this an alternate history in the usual sense. (For example, one gets the impression that in one of the strands Patricia's involvement in an earlier gay rights movement has an effect on Alan Turing that may result in his not committing suicide in 1954. This in turn may have affected the world's geo-political situation, but we never find out if this is the case.)
MY REAL CHILDREN is certainly worth reading, but it is at times a bit cliched or obvious, and is more a traditional mainstream novel. The fact that we have two alternate timelines makes it science fiction, but each individual strand has very little science fiction content (the nuclear exchanges are very much in the background). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I've always been interested in people, but I've never liked them. --W. Somerset MaughamTweet
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