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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/28/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 22, Whole Number 1834
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ): Lectures, etc. (NJ)
December 4: THE APARTMENT (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM December 11: STALKER (film) and ROADSIDE PICNIC (book) by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5PM **NOTE EARLIER TIME** December 18: TBD (probably more articles from THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2012), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM January 8: MIMIC (film) and "Mimic" by Donald Wollheim (story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM January 22: KINDRED by Octavia Butler, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change): January 2: TBD Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Headline Seen on News (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
An America Herald ran the headline "Ice Age Infant Remains found in Alaska." I think scientists remain determined that this time he will stay found. [-mrl]
Can We Believe the Popular Media on Science? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have heard three statements in the popular media. I was wondering what our readers thought of these. If I read it in Scientific American I would be more inclined to believe them, but it is from sources like The Daily Mail--not to put them down, but they are not predominately science journals.
1. Black Holes cannot form and do not exist. (So what is holding the galaxy together?)
http://tinyurl.com/void-black-holes (Daily Mail)
2. Pluto may again a planet
I think this is a question of inconsistent definition criteria being applied to bodies inside versus outside the solar system.
3. Voyager has not yet left the solar system
The heliosphere extends further than we thought.
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for December (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly guide to hopefully some of the lesser-known films that are worth catching. All times listed are Eastern Time Zone, since we are here out in the open if another Hurricane Sandy attacks, so we deserve some special perks.
THE GREAT RUPPERT (1950) is more just a children's film than most I would pick, but it is rare enough that fans of the great Gyorgy Pal Marczincsak may want to catch it. You probably know him as George Pal. In 1950 he had spent a decade making Puppetoons, three- dimensional animated stories, mostly fairy tales. He even collaborated with Ray Harryhausen on his 1942 animated short "Tulips Shall Grow." Now his ambition was to make a feature film, using animation techniques he had learned on Puppetoons. Reportedly he wanted to make a film starring an animated mouse, but he did not want to take on Walt Disney who might claim copyright infringement from someone not working for him doing an animated mouse. Pal instead chose to feature Rupert, an animated squirrel. Irving Pichel, the actor who played Sandor, Dracula's daughter's servant (and master) in DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, directed the film. You have to see it knowing it is really for the under-12 crowd, but it does show where Pal was going. And where was he going? To the moon. The following year he made another jump. This time he had Pichel directing again in a story of the first human trip to the moon, DESTINATION MOON, the movie that kicked off the 1950s science fiction film boom. [Wednesday, December 24, 9:30 AM]
Okay, THE GREAT RUPERT was a film aimed at children. If you want one much more adult, there is UMBERTO D (1952). Vittorio De Sica directed this film. Four years earlier he had made THE BICYLE THIEF a story of the desperation of a father trying to feed his family in the Italian shattered economy after the war. It was a great classic film. UMBERTO D is in many ways a very similar story. The title character is a retired government worker in the same terrible economy. Umberto's pension is just almost nearly not quite enough to let him starve to death with a little dignity. He cannot pay his rent and his landlady is going to throw him out. Umberto lives a lonely life, but for the love of his dog. Together the two find themselves homeless and hungry. De Sica creates wonderful portraits of people living lives of quiet anguish, characters struggling to live. He is almost an Italian Victor Hugo. De Sica would generally not choose experienced actors. Most had never been in front of a camera before. This gives his films a strong feeling of realism. These people had the same problems their characters did or knew someone who had. [Monday, December 15, 7:30 AM]
Warner Brothers' forte was gangster and crime films. They rarely went in for horror. But they regularly used Peter Lorre in films like THE MALTESE FALCON and CASABLANCA. His final film for Warner was a horror film, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1946). In it once again Lorre can play a madman, this time with a passion for astrology. He wants to inherit a rare astrology book from a great pianist who has suffered a stroke and will probably die soon. As Hillary Cummins Lorre will kill to get this astrology book. The musician dies by accident or murder. In his madness Cummins sees a hand of the musician move around with a life of its own coming for Lorre. Curt Siodmak, who seemed to be Hollywood's fountain of horror and fantasy, adapted the screenplay very, very loosely (or not at all) from the story by William Fryer Harvey. [Sunday, December 14, 4:15 AM]
I am not going to choose a best picture for the month because I am biased. The film I would recommend is one I assume the reader has seen many times. It involves an expedition to an island in the South Pacific and the misguided attempt to bring a large gorilla back to New York City. I won't even mention the name. [Tuesday, December 30, 2:15 PM]
Why Streaming Content Is Still Not the Solution (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 2011, I wrote an article about how a friend said that we should not be buying DVDs or even Blu-rays because downloadable content is the wave of the future. To which my response was then that I agree with him, particularly about the "future" part. And you know, it's still the wave of the future, and it is still in the present that things fall apart.
What were the problems I listed?
"Most downloadable content does not seem to have subtitle or closed-caption options." Still true. This was supposedly being worked on, but no progress seems to have been made in the last three years.
To which I will add:
Most downloadable content also does not have commentaries or other extras.
"The network can be down, either short-term from some minor failure, or long-term from some hacker attack." Still true.
"The network can be too slow." Still true. Indeed, it is more true than ever.
"What you want to see may not be available on-line." Still true.
"What you want may be available on-line today, but not necessarily tomorrow." Still true.
"What you want may be available on-line today, but you have to subscribe to an inordinate (and expensive) number pf services." Still true.
"Downloadable copies are available only as long as the vendor is in business." Still true. (Also relies on the network unless you are storing local files.)
"Storing local copies (to get around the problems with downloading) ties up a lot of disc space." Still true. Also, if you are going to save programs on external or removable media, you might as well buy a DVD.
And this is the list of my objections three years ago. So far as I can tell, no progress has been made on any of them.
Again, I'm not against streaming/downloadable content. We watch it a lot for the movies and shows that are available. And I much prefer it for shorter things (individual television episodes, short films, and so on) that you will probably watch only once, and which usually come bundled on DVDs with things you do not necessarily want. But it is still not a complete replacement for actual physical media. [-ecl]
THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein (copyright 1951, Del Rey Books, copyright 1998 Blackstone Audiobooks, 9 hrs 24 mins, narrated by Tom Weiner), (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
I have this weird relationship with the works of Robert A. Heinlein. As I've stated here in the past, I never read much, if any, Heinlein in my formative SF years. I don't remember if that's because my mother didn't have any Heinlein on the shelves--and she's the one that got me started on all this stuff--or whether I just ignored him completely.
As you know, I've started to dip my toe in the Heinleinian waters via audiobooks. I *could* read print copies, as my wife brought a lot of Heinlein into the marriage, but my own to-read list is daunting enough without actually reaching on to the shelves to add books to it. So when it came time to pick the next audiobook to listen to, Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS caught my eye. The novel was originally published in 1951, and while it is reflective of the times with regard to its themes of paranoia and UFO sightings, among other things, the novel holds up surprisingly well.
The novel takes place in the early 21st century, several years before our current present day. Sam is an agent in The Section, a clandestine and officially non-existent security organization within the U.S. government. The Section is headed up by the Old Man, a gruff authority figure whose word is not to be questioned and will to succeed appears to be unparalleled. Sam and the Old Man, along with Mary, another field agent within the section, head to Des Moines, Iowa to investigate the disappearance of several agents who had been sent to investigate a flying saucer that had landed near Grinnell. Side note--I've been to Grinnell. There's a terrific steakhouse just off the I-80 exit where you get to pick out and grill your own steak. I did not notice, however, the things that that the Old Man, Sam, and Mary discovered, which were the gray slugs that were taking over the local population. These gray slugs attach themselves to the backs of their victims, taking over their bodies.
This was, of course, the beginning of an invasion of earth by the slugs. The slugs spread by a couple of different means, one being a manner of recruitment where unsuspecting individuals are lured to a place where slugs are placed upon them by already "recruited" humans. The other way, the way which is more insidious and frightening, is that the slugs multiply by fissioning, crawling off and latching on to unrecruited humans. Sam was taken over the by the first method, and was able to survive his ordeal when his slug was removed after being interrogated by the Old Man through Sam. Other folks weren't so lucky. Of course the government was at first reluctant to take any action, but events finally convinced the President of the U.S. to take action in the form of making everyone walk around almost completely naked so it could be seen whether a person was wearing a slug or not.
The novel is something different from what Heinlein typically wrote, and yet the reader can see the makings of what was to come much later in his career. The novel was somewhat scandalous at the time, given its attitudes toward sex and the fact that people accepted walking around naked all the time. It also foreshadowed more of what was to come with regard to later novels' attitudes toward and about women--in particular, being tough and yet the fairer sex, resorting to feminine charms and acting in, oh, a stereotypical weak fashion. Mary, for example, is a tough field agent, someone not to be messed with. Her advantage was that she could tell if a man was under the influence of a slug if he didn't react to her feminine charms. In fact, Mary went from being a strong female character who could take care of herself to someone who seemed weak and needed help and advice from Sam, whom she married partway through the book. As an aside, she was also a redhead, which if memory serves is a physical characteristic shared by many of the prominent women in Heinlein's novels.
In the end, we sort of beat the slugs, and sort of don't. Heinlein tells us we can never be completely certain that the slugs have been eliminated, so we must always be vigilant, keeping an eye out for the invaders. A ship is sent to Titan, a moon of Saturn, where the slugs are from, to try to eradicate them at the source. Until then, we must keep constant watch. Paranoia indeed, whether it be UFOs, communists within our government, or slugs. There's always something out to get us.
Tom Weiner does a decent enough job of narrating the story. I don't know that his voicing of female characters is any better or worse than any other narrator I've heard. I do know that he didn't intrude upon the story or annoy me in any way, so that's a good thing.
With the constant threat of privacy invasion going on even today, some of the lessons of THE PUPPET MASTERS are still relevant. We still need to be vigilant, now more than ever, and that's one of the main reasons this book holds up as well as it does for me. Hopefully it will do the same for you. [-jak]
ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film about human survival in an alien world, but it is not science fiction. It is a documentary about the 5000 or so real people who come to the coldest continent and particularly about the one in seven who stay through the black winter and what the experience does to them. It is not just about being cold and in the dark. Strange things happen to the minds of people who face the bitter and the black. The movie was written, directed and filmed by New Zealander Anthony Powell who fell in love with the icy lands taking still pictures of it ten years ago. The vistas of white and all the sights of the icecap make for an extraordinary and memorable film. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Anthony Powell, a satellite telecommunications engineer and still photographer, has provided film for nature shows, exhibits, and the BBC series "Frozen Planet." For his first feature film of his own he decided to spend an entire year in Antarctica and record his experience with special cameras, many of which he built for himself. He makes extensive use of time-lapse photography to catch the changing vistas. Time-lapse and still views of the huge vistas are real jaw-droppers.
Powell also includes wildlife footage of seals and especially penguins, for whom he seems to have a special fondness. However, for once the viewer may find the people of more interest than the animals. We would expect life to be different in Antarctica, but it is a far stranger experience than anyone who has not been there would probably imagine.
If one thinks of the sort of people one would find in Antarctica what comes to mind first are the scientists, perhaps doing research on ice melt or on the penguins. But a large proportion of the people there are in support positions. You need cooks, clerks, firemen, communications repair specialists, and handymen. There was a notable absence in the film of anyone identified as a scientist. Powell's emphasis is on what happens to ordinary people in this extraordinary environment. The film is full of unexpected revelations. We know penguins can be cute, but they also can be disgusting when it comes to them living with penguin guano. With all the recent documentaries about penguins, only this one mentions guano problems. Apparently people who have lived with the cold and the isolation find they suffer from serious memory loss. Still, there is a family-like relation among the people who stay. They combine a spirit of adventure with a special kind of insanity.
The continent of Antarctica is covered by an icecap that is 25 million cubic kilometers of ice. That is about 6 million cubic miles. Ironically it is covered with snow and is still a desert with less than six inches of precipitation a year. There is enough ice there that if it would melt it would raise the sea level more than 200 feet. Virtually anything that is needed to live on the ice has to be brought in from outside.
In the summer time there are about 5000 people in Antarctica at any given time. Only one in seven stays through the winter and that requires a special breed of person. For them the yearly routine is two months of days and nights, four months of constant sunlight, two months of days and nights, and four months of constant dark. The isolation of winter has a strange disorienting psychological effect on those who stay. Some form of memory deterioration seems common. There are storms weekly and most winters there is a hurricane force storm. Small cracks in window frames can cover a whole room with snow. One gets used to temperatures as warm as -40 degrees Celsius (or Fahrenheit) and as cold as -70 C under skies of the green shimmering curtains of the Aurora.
It would be hard to imagine much of what Powell shows us. But no other documentary I have seen shows us the strange life on the ice cap. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2361700/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/antarctica_a_year_on_ice/
THE IMMORTALISTS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This film is a portrait of two advanced biologists working with promising results on the problems of reversing aging. Your mileage may vary but to me spending so much time on their admittedly eccentric personal lives--time that could have been used to explain more of the science and their particular theories and approaches--was not the best choice. The film does show us interesting views of their research environment. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
First let us talk a about the current biological model of aging. Aging appears to be related to telomeres. What is a telomere? Telomeres are like caps at the ends of chromosomes. The chromosome makes a nearly identical copy of itself when the chromosome duplicates. What is different is the telomere on the new chromosome is a little shorter. When the telomere is too short, the chromosome cannot duplicate properly. The resulting dysfunctions accumulate to be aging. If the telomeres were of sufficient length or if they replicated exactly the chromosome duplicated the new chromosome would be just as good and the organism would not have the effects of aging. The result would be that the creature inside which all this was going on would not age, and also in some cases aging would actually reverse. The telomeres are repaired and extended by the enzyme telomerase (actually officially called "telomerase reverse transcriptase"). It would seem then that telomerase might be a useful tool in countering aging, but it might also promote cancer. That occurs when cells refuse to die--a dysfunction closely related to the aging process.
[Standard McCoy-esque Disclaimer: I am a film reviewer, not a biologist. Any of the above should be taken with some skepticism until verified with someone with proper training.]
There are (at least) two different approaches that are being considered for life extension. THE IMMORTALISTS is a new documentary looking at the scientific theories of aging and the men who support each of the two theories. Each approach has a champion introduced in this film. The coverage of the science is minimal and directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg and writer Sussberg more want to give the viewer an idea of what the people are like who lead each side. William H. Andrews, Ph.D., feels that there might exist a drug that would release telomerase. If such a drug can be found he expects that it would extend the telomeres and help to extend life. Andrews is also an extreme marathon runner feeling that this sort of exercise also would extend his telomere length. The film strays from strictly the science to tell of Andrews running a very long very high altitude marathon that while helping to extend his life nearly itself killed him. Documented is his returning to the marathon after his brush with death previously. And as an apparently reproducible result it nearly kills him a second time. The film looks at his motivations including his desire to prevent the death of his aging father.
The other major figure is Andrews's friend and colleague Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. He opposes his friend and instead advocates Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). This is a seven- pronged approach to limit the amount of telomerase the chromosome is subjected to. This should decrease the possibility of cancer, but then using a diverse approach to pragmatically treat several different dysfunctions resulting from short telomeres. Where Andrews's approach is to prevent certain age-related disorders, de Grey advocates curing the disorders individually. He sees a need to do repairs as things break rather than looking for one single drug. We are told he has this seven-fold approach, but we hear only about two or three of the prongs.
Alvarado and Sussberg present too little of the science, but spend more of their time giving us portraits of the two men and their life styles. We follow Andrews on his marathon. We also see de Grey's life with his wife and his two girl friends in what becomes a polyamorous relationship. He and his wife are followed on a nature hike that turns into a nude picnic complete with sex for the camera. This is not the most enlightening sequence that could have been filmed.
How is the search going? Well, in 2011 they apparently succeeded in reversing the aging of a mouse. How many mice will need to have their aging reversed before the same approach will be used on humans is still a question. Dr. Andrews thinks procedures may be possible in as little as three years. That seems very optimistic. But one cannot predict where breakthroughs will come in science. And funding problems are ubiquitous.
I rate THE IMMORTALISTS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3267194/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_immortalists/
Code Knocking (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to Kip Williams's comments on code knocking in the 11/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
Shave and a haircut (5 short), two bits (2 long). [-no]
You have not defined what a "long" is and what a "short." But the real test is for the last two knocks can you tell the differences among long-long, long-short, short-long, and short-short? [-mrl]
Dogs (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Mark's comments on dogs in the 11/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
I'm no dog lover, but I've noticed a trend toward the establishment of "dog parks" in this area. These provide a safe environment for dogs to play and interact with other dogs. If such things exist in New Jersey perhaps one of Mark's reservations about acquiring a dog might be alleviated. [-fl]
I cannot imagine a dog (and his owner) spending a sizable fraction of his life in a dog park. I don't see dog parks being much of a solution for the hours a day that the dog has nothing to do. [-mrl]
ARROWSMITH (letters of comment by Fred Lerner and Gregory Benford):
In response to Evelyn's comments on ARROWSMITH in the 11/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
Whether its subject matter renders ARROWSMITH science fiction depends upon the approach one takes toward defining SF. If "the effects of technological change" is the major defining factor, then a case could be made for classifying ARROWSMITH as science fiction. If one defines science fiction as a branch of literature employing certain narrative strategies and reading protocols, then ARROWSMITH would probably not qualify. (If you follow Chip Delany's argument about "subjunctivity levels", then the "alternative present or a reconceived history" in that book would be considered too trivial a departure from consensus reality to be worth considering.) And lastly, if science fiction is considered as that body of literature arising from a self-aware community of SF readers and writers--a form of definition I find useful for historical and bibliographical study--then ARROWSMITH is not science fiction. (I'll leave it to Evelyn's alternate-history expertise to determine whether Lewis's IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE is a more likely candidate to be considered science fiction.) [-fl]
Gregory Benford writes:
The trick in double blind medical studies these days is to keep the control group fairly small, say 20% of the treated group.
My company does this in its ongoing Alzheimer's trial, & gets clear results. Luckily, the drug is working well. [-gb]
Dogs, INTERSTELLAR, LOOPER, and History Books (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 11/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
In the few minutes I have before I head home for the Thanksgiving weekend, here are some thoughts on your latest VOID.
As a dog owner, I can understand Mark's feelings about dogs. They can be a bother to clean up after, but quite frankly, I can now understand why people love Labradors. Our yellow lab, Duckie, is the sweetest dog I have ever known. He's so gentle with our grandson, letting Brian crawl all over him, pulling on ears, giving the dog dental checks, and so on, all without a whimper or nip of complaint. In fact, I think Duckie loves the attention and would probably bite the nuts off anyone who threatens Brian. He is definitely protective of the lad, which makes me feel good. I have never owned a dog before - always cats - but I'm glad we have the Duckie. He's a good boy.
We are probably going to see INTERSTELLAR at some point over this holiday weekend. Yes, I know the crowds might be horrendous, but we're planning on a matinee showing while the vast majority are out shopping for Christmas gifts. Everything that I've seen and heard about the movie sounds fantastic: a thoughtful, visual, mentally challenging movie. Wow! A real science fiction movie. It will be interesting to see what it's eventual box office take is going to be.
Speaking of movies, my wife and I just watched LOOPER this past Sunday night on FX network. An interesting movie, a little confusing at first, but I think it was well done despite my predicting the ending 45 minutes ahead of time. And by predicting, I mean *exactly* what was going to happen and how. Even so, I enjoyed it because it was so much more cerebral than what passes for Hollywood "SF" these days.
A recent trip to the local Half-Price Bookstore resulted in 6 dollars netting five books: only one of them cost $2, Shelby Foote's massive Civil War volume FREDERICKSBURG TO MERIDIAN. I've dipped into it a couple times already and may just start at the beginning and read it straight through. Foote is probably one of the most readable historians I have ever encountered. The Durant's THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION (all 11 volumes of it!) was excellent, but not what I would want to read nonstop. Too much is too much. And yes, my dad had a matching set of the Durant's tomes. They took up an entire shelf in our home library.
Well, I think it's time to mosey off. Many thanks for the zine again, and I look forward to this coming Friday's edition. May you two have a Happy Thanksgiving. [-jp]
I think you missed the point. Yes, a dog can be hard to clean up after, but I was not addressing that. I was talking about the unintentional cruelty of dog owners who have dogs but do not have a good way to keep the dog challenged and active during most of the day. Owners also unintentionally inflict separation anxiety on pets when they are boarded. These are loving owners, but they still may not be seeing the world from the dog's point of view. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
WOMEN AND THE MILITARY by John P. Dever and Maria C. Dever (ISBN 0-89950-976-2) is almost entirely about the United States military, with a few seemingly random additions from the rest of the world: Deborah, Boudicea, Joan of Arc, Hannah Senesh, ... There is one fighter pilot from the World War II era in the USSR, and no one from any Axis countries. (Given that the Germans had women testing jet fighters, you would think one of them would have been included.) The whole book seems to be written at a young-adult level, and the index merely recapitulates the table of contents. (You would think they would at least add an entry for "Molly Pitcher" rather than expecting you to know to look her up under "Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley".) This is the sort of book school libraries might want to encourage girls to look at "non- traditional" careers and to provide material for reports for Women's History Month, but there is not much more than that it is useful for. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: In a few decades of reconstruction, even the mathematical natural sciences, the ancient archetypes of theoretical perfection, have changed habit completely! --Edmund HusserlTweet
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