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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/30/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 31, Whole Number 1843
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
February 12: VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (film) and THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by John Wyndham, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM February 26: MALGUDI DAYS by R. K. Narayan, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM March 12: TBD, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM March 26: THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER by John Brunner, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change): February 7: Alex Shvartsman, Writing/Submitting Humor in Speculative Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
No Exit (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am always looking for a better way to get light to help me take notes on a film while I am in a movie theater. I frequently am in a theater where when the lights are turned down I cannot read my palmtop. Audiences are increasingly hostile toward people reading electronics that gives off white light. Somehow red light gets a pass. Theaters will have emergency lighting systems and they have red lights. Exit signs give off red light and nobody seems to mind. Somehow a red light is assumed to be for official purposes. I tried using a red light on my palmtop and I guess I got nobody complaining. But it is closest I ever came to being arrested for impersonating an exit sign. [-mrl]
Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov Day (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Today, January 30, raise a glass to Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov. Without him, chances are that you would not be here.
In July 1961 he was on the nuclear submarine K-19 when its engines started to melt down, and was instrumental in preventing a nuclear catastrophe. But that was just a sideshow.
On October 27, 1962, he was the second-in-command on the nuclear submarine B-59 off Cuba when the United States Navy started dropping depth charges on it. They were too deep for radio contact and the captain wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo. The political officer agreed, but they needed Arkhipov's agreement to do so, and he refused to consent. Apparently his actions during the K-19 crisis helped convince the captain and the political officer to surface and ask Moscow for instructions--which luckily did not include firing a nuclear torpedo.
Had they fired that torpedo it might easily have set off a nuclear war. I don't know about you, but we lived a half mile from a major military base, and in fact my school's back fence was the base's fence as well. (We did those "duck-and-cover" drills, but we all knew that if there was a bomb, it would be close enough that the school desks was not going to be much help.)
So everyone talks about how President Kennedy saved us, and a few people point out that Krushchev was also pretty critical to the process, but no one seems to remember Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, one of the true heroes of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was born on January 30, 1926. [-ecl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for February (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly column to give readers suggestions for films of interest coming up on Turner Classic Movies. These are films the reader may never have seen or maybe never even heard of. Turner Classic Movies is an unending film festival. Not every film they show is great, but they are films that may well be of interest to people. Having seen my share of movies and a few movies more than my share. Perhaps the readers will want to benefit from my experience. I receive no compensation from Turner (yeah, dream on) and am just sharing opinions. All times reported are in EDIACW time. That is Eastern Damn It's A Cold Winter Time.
An earlier "My Picks" article reported that on August 15 of last year TCM would show Richard Lester's THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973). That was good news. The film is one of the great comedic swashbuckler adventures. The swordplay is really authentically correct and the slapstick does not go overboard. But as a friend of mine said, the highest point of the film was when the closing credits announced that the film would be followed by THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974). Of course, there was a year's wait for that film to be released. Each film stands by itself, but together they tell a much more complete story. Sadly what I announced for August was only the first film. I expected TCM would show THE FOUR MUSKETEERS some time in the coming year. And I suspected the two would play together. Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Indeed TCM will be showing THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS back to back. But THE THREE MUSKETEERS shown will be the 1948 version with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner. TCM is not showing THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) at all in February. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS really should be seen together or at least in short order. Well, THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948) is a perfectly serviceable adaptation. I suppose you can watch it with THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and they will go together decently. Gene Kelly is certainly athletic enough. It is a big M-G-M production. And it does have Vincent Price as Cardinal Richelieu. The 1973 version has Charleton Heston as Richelieu and Christopher Lee as Comte de Rochefort. It is a pleasure wherever you look in the film.
[THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948): Wednesday, February 11, 4:00 PM]
[THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974): Wednesday, February 11, 6:15 PM]
TCM offers a rarely seen fantasy film this month. For completists really anxious to find a rarity there is BERKELEY SQUARE (1933), a KING KONG vintage film involving a modern day (well, modern for 1933) Englishman who becomes fascinated with his ancestor who lived 149 years earlier. By strength of willpower, he falls back into 1784 where actually becomes his ancestor. I will not say that what follows is really pulse pounding exciting, but it has its moments. It is a bit English Chauvinistic. The main character whose name is Peter Standish as is the name of his ancestor played by the quintessential Englishman Leslie Howard (actually a Hungarian Jew). This was a popular stage play by John Balderston. Fans of fantasy film should recognize that name, but they rarely mention him. He wrote the play and script DRACULA, an early script for FRANKENSTEIN, the script for THE MUMMY, the scripts for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and the script for MAD LOVE, and he worked on the scripts of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER. He also wrote the script for the 1944 GASLIGHT, also playing this month on TCM. Much more familiar, GASLIGHT is a semi-horror film in which Ingrid Bergman plays a newly married woman who finds herself going mad.
[BERKELEY SQUARE: Tuesday, February 24, 5:00 PM]
[GASLIGHT: Monday, February 9, 12:00 AM]
What do I think is the best film of the month on TCM? I would pick OF MICE AND MEN (1939). Most people who remember this film are doing so because it featured Lon Chaney, Jr., as Lennie. This was before Chaney was known for horror, but in this film he is horrifying when he gets going and other times he is the soul of innocence. That said, I am not choosing this film to be the best of the month for Chaney's presence. I am a fan of John Steinbeck and this film packs quite an emotional wallop. It is not my favorite adaptation of the story, but it is still very good.
[OF MICE AND MEN, Monday, February 23, 12:15 PM]
THE CURRENTS OF SPACE by Isaac Asimov (copyright 1952, Doubleday, 2009 BBC Audio, 7 hrs 54 minutes, narrated by Kevin T. Collins) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
Like many SF fans of my generations, I grew up on Isaac Asimov's stories. Asimov, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, made up what was called back then, and still is in some circles, The Big Three. In those long ago days, there wasn't a large number of authors churning out an unreadable amount of science fiction. It was a small(ish) community, of both readers and writers. You conceivably read every SF novel that was published in a particular year and be able to converse with your fellow fans about all of them. The Big Three arguably produced a majority of the classics that came out of that period. As a side discussion point, is there a Big Three today? If so, who are they? Do we really need a Big Three?
Isaac Asimov was the most prolific of the bunch. He wrote more books on more subjects than anyone alive. He is, of course, famous for his original "Foundation" trilogy in addition to his "Robot" novels. A less known--at least to me--set of books is his Galactic Empire series, which is made of up THE STARS, LIKE DUST: THE CURRENTS OF SPACE; and PEBBLE IN THE SKY. The novels are set in the same universe as the "Foundation" novels, but take place before them. Trantor, before it becomes the seat of power of the Galactic Empire, is a part of these novels, and in fact has a role to play in THE CURRENTS OF SPACE.
It's hard to tell these days who has read Asimov and who hasn't, so as usual I will summarize things (I initially thought that most folks who read my reviews have read Asimov, but it slowly dawned on me that certainly isn't the case. Folks who have been reading my reviews for as long as I've been writing them are probably close to my age and have read Asimov, but in this day and age I'm sure there are scads of readers who've never touched an Asimov book.
The story takes place on Florina, the most beautiful planet in the galaxy. Florina is the sole source in the galaxy of the fiber called kyrt. Kyrt is made into clothing and other adornments worn by the wealthy. The planet Sark has control over Florina and thus the kyrt trade. Sarkites on Florina live in an elevated city, surrounded by wealth and comfort--the upper crust class of Florina if you will. The Florinians harvest and produce the kyrt for trade. The Florinians are the lower class, dominated by and separated from the Sarkites, and they live on the ground. It is definitely a segregated society, in which one race of people takes advantage of the other. It's a true class system, not unlike the slave owners and the slaves of the United States back in the Civil War days. A parallel could be--and probably was intended--with cotton production in the south of the United States back in the days of slave labor.
Rik is a spatio analyst who studies, well, space. He has determined that there is a great danger to the planet of Florina and all its residents. It seems that the planet will be destroyed. Rik is subjected to the psychic probe and loses all his memories. The story of THE CURRENTS OF SPACE, then, is a mystery. Rik begins to regain his memories, and so the questions are: who is Rik, what is the danger, what is causing it, and what is to be done about it. Lurking in the background early in the novel is Trantor, but it comes out of the shadows to play an important part of the resolution of the mystery. At the heart of it all lies kyrt and the kyrt trade. Sark is not interested in spreading the story of the destruction of Florina, and Trantor would like to gain control of both Sark and Florina for its own reasons.
This is Asimov in his formative years, and the reader can see some of his tendencies and shortcomings beginning to develop. There are two main female characters in the book, both of which start out seeming important but ending up in the background before it is all said and done. It is the men who do the work here, not the women. (To be fair, Asimov, and thus his novels, are a product of his time. Things have changed, and while society still has a long way to go in many areas, it is certainly more advanced than it was back in the early 1950s.) There are also no aliens, which was a criticism of Asimov's work for most of his career. All the characters in THE CURRENTS OF SPACE are human, and indeed we learn of the concept of the planet of origin, Earth, where Rik is supposed to be from.
Still, this is a pretty good mystery story. It is not revealed until the end, in typical mystery reveal fashion, who applied the psychic probe to Rik and why Florina is in danger. Yep, that means all the characters are in a room, all their stories are told, and all the facts gathered until the solution is discovered. I certainly enjoyed it. I don't know if that's because it's a book by one of my favorite authors from my youth--that I haven't read until now, by the way--or because it really is that good. It certainly is an example of classic 1950s science fiction by one of the then-masters of the genre.
Kevin T. Collins does a serviceable job of narrating the story. The listener can tell that it's a BBC Audio production in that each of the voices that Collins uses to differentiate between characters is a variation on some accent from the United Kingdom It was a bit jarring, especially when you consider that Asimov probably did not write those characters with British accents in mind. For me it did intrude upon the story somewhat, but not so much that I couldn't enjoy it. [-jak]
2014 Science and Technology in Review (comments by Dale L. Skran):
I've recently observed that my friend Mark Leeper has become somewhat less pessimistic than usual. I attribute this to the rapid advance in technology and science in 2014. So, to keep that smile on Mark's face, I thought I would take a look at several attempts to review the big sci-tech stories of 2014.
Like last year, I'll start with DISCOVER magazine's "100 Top Stories of 2014" and pick out the more interesting, optimistic items. This requires skipping #1--the Ebola crisis--to get to #3--Rosetta's comet rendezvous. Story #7, "Ancient Genome Sequences Settle First Americans Debate", is not so significant for the particular issue resolved as it is as an emblem of a new age when we can recover the genetic codes of humans from tens of thousands of years ago--surely a wonder out of SF. Story #13, "Stems Cells Make Insulin, Restore Retinas", describes how embryonic stem cells have cured diabetes in mice and substantially restored sight to 10 out of 18 patients with macular degeneration and Stargardt's macular dystrophy, while halting further deterioration in 7 more. "The First Designer Chromosome"--Story #17 heralds a new age even stranger, marked by the synthesis of the first completely artificial chromosome, which when injected in a real yeast cell functioned normally. Story #20--"Dengue Vaccine Clears Major Trial Hurdle"--holds out hope of ending a scourge that affects over 100 million people each year.
SF fans will be excited to hear that the United States Navy has started to deploy the first Laser weapons to ships in Story #29. Story #38--"A Giant Step for Gene Surgery"--is almost certainly much lower on the list than it should be. The advent of CRISPR, a new technique that allows a particular gene to be exactly inserted or deleted from a particular spot, promises to vastly accelerate genetic engineering and disease treatment. "A Sensitive Advance in Prosthetics"--Story #40--describes an artificial hand with touch feedback. We can see the Singularity peeking around the corner in the form of the self-driving cars described in Story #50--"Google Car Moves into Fast Lane." Along the same lines, in Story #57 we see that the "FDA Approves First Powered Exoskeleton." Personally, I find Story #58--"Laser Technique Reverses Tooth Decay"--appealing if the promise of using lasers to stimulate dentine regeneration pans out. The final story, #100, "Meet the Exoplanet Class of 2014", lists the most interesting planets found around other stars during 2014, something that should get SF fans salivating.
SCIENCE magazine does an annual "Breakthrough of the Year" article. This year they allowed readers to select the top five, and to rank order them. It is curious that some of these items did not even appear in the DISCOVER list! Although the SCIENCE BOTY #1--"Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet" appeared as a story the DISCOVER list, I didn't mention it since I view its future implications to be unclear. The Rosetta rendezvous was SCIENCE BOTY #3, and also DISCOVER story #3, a curious coincidence. SCIENCE BOTY #4--"Cells that might cure diabetes"--I mentioned above as DISCOVER story #13. But now comes the amazing part--SCIENCE BOTY #2--"Young blood fixes old"--and BOTY #5--"An easy cure for Hepatitis C" did not even appear on the DISCOVER list. You would think the potential immortality that might arise from the discovery that young blood reverses aging in old mice would be considered newsworthy!!!
Not being completely satisfied by these two efforts, I next turned to POPULAR SCIENCE'S "100 Greatest Innovations of the Year." These are not numbered but rather are organized in categories, with a per-category highest rated item. For the "Green" category, the winner is "Plastic from Thin Air" which details a method for creating plastic from air and methane more cheaply than oil-based plastics, surely a great invention. Skipping over the gadget-filled "Auto" and "Security" categories we come to "Aerospace" which features the Dragon 2 as the "Grand Prize Winner" for the category, although it exists now only as a mock-up. Other interesting entries in this category are the NASA Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), an inflatable heat shield targeted toward future Mars trips. However, the piece of information I found the most interesting was a chart titled "Visual Data: Efficient Air Travel Has Arrived." For a long time we've been told that trains are the most energy-efficient mode of travel. In 2014, for the first time, airplanes became not only more efficient than both autos and buses, but almost as efficient as trains. This is a truly momentous event that will have a great impact on future transportation planning--and SF as well.
Again skipping both "Recreation" and "Home" we come to "Gadgets," which includes as a runner-up the LG OLED flexible display. This 18-inch monitor can roll into a 1-inch tube!!! For the "Health" category the grand prize winner was the Deka "Luke" arm, which allows an amputee to pick up a glass after ten minutes of training. A runner-up was the Gilead Sciences Hepatitis C cure, which appeared on the SCIENCE list but not on the DISCOVER list. I've skipped quite a few "gadgets" in the POP SCI list, but overall the magazine has made a worthy effort to collect the major technology events and products of 2014.
Skipping onward to POPULAR MECHANICS "2014 Breakthrough Awards" the lead article is a spinal cord implant that has allowed a woman suffering from chronic severe pain to return to a normal life, something that did not appear in any of the other lists. Additional entries include the Boston Dynamics humanoid search-and-rescue robot, a car from Local Motors that has a 3D printed shell and only a total of 64 parts, and the modular construction of NASA's LADEE moon probe. The most surprising thing about the POP MECH list is that there is very little duplication with the other lists.
I'll conclude my roundup with TIME magazine's "25 Best Inventions of 2014." Here we find "The Real-Life Hoverboard" which, since it is limited to a height of 1-inch over a copper or aluminum surface is more of a stunt than a real product, but still--SF come to life! "The Supersmart Spacecraft" details how India became the first nation to get a probe to Mars to work on the first try, surely of relevance to SF fans. The "Life" section touts smart watches from Apple and the multi-configuration Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which transforms into a laptop, a tablet, and a desktop. Although not part of the "25 Inventions" section, a "The Future of Computing" article discusses the Oculus Rift VR goggles, the Leap Motion 3D controller, and Google Glasses, which although perhaps not technically "invented" in 2014, are surely part of an unfolding story.
To sum up, it was striking how little overlap there was between the lists, and how apparently blockbuster events, like a potential treatment for aging and an actual cure for Hepatitis C, did not make most of the lists. However, there is plenty here to allow Mark Leeper to ring in 2015 with good cheer. And I just realized that an on-line 2014 invention list I found mentioned a multi-angle, visible light invisibility shield, albeit an inch or two in diameter. Welcome to the Age of Marvels! [-dls]
2014 Academy Award Nominees in Short Live-Action and Animation (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
I usually review only feature-length films. However, this year I have been given an opportunity to see the complete set of live-action and animation shorts that have been nominated for Academy Awards.
I will rate each film A for excellent, B for good, C for acceptable and D for poor.
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM NOMINEES
Directors: Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Countries of origin: France, Israel
Running time: 39:50
Language: English, Hebrew
Aya (played by Sarah Adler) is at an airport to give a ride to
someone arriving when she is asked by a limousine driver to hold a
greeting sign for a moment. When the passenger intended for that
driver comes looking for his limo driver, he thinks it is Ava.
Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) is a distinguished looking Dane. Aya
is fascinated by him at first sight and on a whim decides that she
will not admit that she is really not his intended limo driver.
She instead drives him from Tel Aviv Airport to his hotel in
Jerusalem. Most of the film is just their conversation on the
drive. The Danish musicologist intrigues Ava. Overby goes through
a gamut of emotions as he guesses that something is wrong, but also
he finds he is fascinated by the impulsive and funny Aya. Thomsen
looks on the events with obvious uneasiness but never loses his
dignity. Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis who wrote the screenplay
together with Tom Shoval direct the film. They did well not to
stretch the material to feature length without more material, but
at 40 minutes this material still has some charm enough to keep the
viewer involved. Rating: B
"Boogaloo and Graham"
Directors: Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 14:00
The film is set in a tense Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the year
1978. British soldiers are patrolling the alleyways with automatic
weapons. We see a local man carrying a large sinister-looking box
and placing it on the ground. He calls to two boys to the box.
Reaching down he pulls out two baby chicks. This is Father (Martin
McCann), and he has a chicken for each of his sons to raise as
pets. The boys are instantly captivated and look at the chickens
with a fascination as if Father had pulled out a flying saucer.
The boys are smitten with the chicks, but their mother is not sure
she wants her house messed up with such unconventional pets. And
raising children in a war zone like Belfast is neither safe nor
easy. Rating: A
"Butter Lamp" ("La Lampe au Beurre de Yak")
Directors: Hu Wei and Julien Feret
Countries of origin: France, China
Running time: 15:54
We are looking at Tiananmen Square, but it is perfectly empty. A
family comes and poses in front of us and we realize we are looking
through a photographer's camera. In a remote village of Tibet a
photographer is taking family portraits of local families. For
background scenery we see the photographer has many rolled murals,
each from a different place that the people of this village will
probably never see. It is clear that many of the people being
photographed have never seen a camera before and do not really
understand the process. One woman turns her back to the camera
because she only wants to look at the Potala on the background.
Multiple older men have prayer spinners. Children are always
uncooperative. Some of the backgrounds are ironic. One is a
picture of Disneyland. The film is just a pleasant look at a slice
of life. Rating: C
Directors: Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
Country of origin: Switzerland
Running time: 24:26
A young woman from Afghanistan, working in Switzerland, needs to
send money to her sick father back at home. She is exploited and
cheated at every turn and not having much success in her efforts.
She overhears someone say that if she goes to a modern city
(Geneva?) she can send the money through Western Union. So she
decides to visit the city. Urban life is as bad as her rural life
was for her until she finds a punk rocker who will help her ... for
a fee. We see two different cultures that clash, yet there are
still decent people in either culture. Rating: B
"The Phone Call"
Directors: Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 20:56
For a small short film, this film has some major talent in front of
the camera. Sally Hawkins (GODZILLA, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY) is working at
a crisis center and gets a phone call from a suicidal older man
(Jim Broadbent). She works desperately to get information about
the man so she can get help to him. "The Phone Call" has been
nominated for an Academy Award the same year as the documentary
"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," a film on much the same subject "
but that completely overpowers this one. Rating: C
ANIMATED SHORT FILM NOMINEES
"The Bigger Picture"
Directors: Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 7:27
Filmed as if painted on wallpaper with some papier-mache, "The
Bigger Picture" tells of two brothers, quite different from each
other, who compete for their elderly mother's love and face her
approaching death as well as their own. Mother is getting to where
she has to be cared for and that brings a new crisis. The story is
downbeat and the animation does not lighten things up at all.
"The Dam Keeper"
Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Country of origin: US
Running time: 18:08
A town has large windmills that stand between the town and disaster
in some way not explained. A little pig has inherited the
responsibility of maintaining the windmills and keeping the town
alive. The townspeople, all animals, either do not know the pig is
protecting them or do not care or have not a speck of gratitude.
They make the pig's life a misery by bullying him and making fun.
The pig should have been a town hero, but nobody stands up for him
or even wants to be friends. Then a new animal comes to town, a
foxy fox. She decides she likes the pig and makes a friend of him.
But is she really a friend? Rating: B
Directors: Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
Country of origin: US
Running time: 7:00
A homeless stray puppy is desperate to find food scraps left by the
humans. One of the humans takes pity on him, adopting him and
naming him Winston. As he goes through life Winston finds living
with humans is frequently a flood of tempting human-food of all
kinds of delicious varieties. But when the food supply is not a
satisfying, he decides to take matters into his own hands ... or
paws. This film from Disney has plenty of cute, but not enough
real story. And the animation does not always explain what is
going on. The film is endearing, but it could say more. Rating: B
"Me and My Moulton"
Director: Torill Kove
Country of origin: Canada
Running time: 13:08
This is an autobiographical story of three sisters growing up in
Norway, getting along with their artistically oriented parents.
The parents know what they want for their daughters, which is
frequently not what the daughters want. The storyteller wants a
very common sort of bicycle that will be the same model as a
neighbor's bike, but the parents have their own ideas of what
bicycle to get. The animation and art is colorful, but not very
innovative. Rating: C
"A Single Life"
Director: Joris Oprins
Country of origin: Netherlands
Running time: 2:18
Using three-dimensional animation, we have a woman deciding that a
song on a record tells the story of her life. Skipping around on
the record she jumps backward and forward in time seeing her past,
her present, and her future. But there are some scenes of our
lives it is better not to see. For such a short animated film it
tells a reasonably good science fiction story with allusions to
George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE. Rating: A
It looks like the films I would pick for Academy Awards on February 22 would be
Best Live Action Short:
"Boogaloo and Graham"
Directors: Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Best Animated Short
"A Single Life"
Director: Joris Oprins
Louis Zamperini (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's review of UNBROKEN in the 01/23/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
There was no summer Olympics in 1938. They were in 1936. And [Louis] Zamperini did not medal there. He did set a collegiate mile record in 1938. Does the movie really say he did it at the Olympics? In 1938 no less? [-pr]
And Jerry Ryan writes:
Regarding your review of UNBROKEN... note that Zamperini didn't medal at the Berlin Olympics. The record he set was a high school record that stood for many, many years. He hoped to get to and medal at the *next* Olympics, which were at that time scheduled to be in Tokyo.
I had read the book prior to seeing the film. It's certainly the case that the character seems almost superhuman. I got the same impression of him from my reading of the book (which I enjoyed very much, by the way, as I did the film). It's hard to believe that all of that happened, but there's an enormous amount of contemporary evidence that corroborates the account in the book. The Bird was a most wanted man and in hiding for a very long time after the war, and was listed as one of the top Japanese war criminals. I don't think anything was fabricated. The "everyone punch him in the face" event is in the book, but one has to imagine people pulling punches!
I've read and seen adaptations of a number of these true-life stories of people at war, and they often feel impossible to believe. It's hard to comprehend going through the things that the people in THE GREAT ESCAPE or THE WOODEN HORSE (or even, for that matter, BAND OF BROTHERS) went through. I've an uncle who was decorated for valor for things that he did at the Battle of the Bulge: the stories told and the words on the citation never seemed to match up with my sweet old uncle.
I wonder if all such stories are fated to seem unreal to those of us that don't have a similar shared experience. [-gwr]
Not being a fan of Olympic games I see I got the statistics wrong about Louis Zamperini, subject of the film UNBROKEN. Wikipedia says, "Zamperini finished in a dead-heat tie against American record-holder Don Lash and qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. At 19 years, 178 days, Zamperini is still the youngest American qualifier ever in the 5,000 meters... Zamperini finished eighth in the 5000-meter distance event at that Olympics."
I apologize to anyone losing their lunch money in bets about the above material. [-mrl]
A Box of Chocolates (letter of comment by Glen A. Taylor):
In response to Mark's comments about a box of chocolates in the 01/23/15 issue of the MT VOID, Glen Taylor writes:
You make the observation that the "life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get" quote is no longer true. Chocolate boxes come with a map. I don't think there is anything particularly new about the "map" in chocolate boxes. That idea was well known long before Tom Hanks intoned those words. As a boy in the 1950s, Whitman's Samplers were a popular gift. The box top was a hinged lid and inside the top was a "map" of the pieces in the box below. In my little corner of rural Louisiana, Russell Stover wasn't then common by that brand name, and See's was completely unavailable. So if those brands, and any other local or national favorites, have added this feature since the Gump movie, I could not say. However, Whitman's Samplers predated Forrest Gump by a substantial margin since Wikipedia indicates the Sampler was first made available in 1912 which predates the movie by 82 years. [-gat]
At least in my lifetime some chocolates, Whitman's in particular, have come with a map. These days it seems to be the rule rather than the exception. The screenwriter was stuck with the line from the book, "Life is no box of chocolate when you're born a retard!" That seemed to be a bit more negative than the filmmakers would have wanted. They changed it to the more upbeat (but false) "life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to find inside."
You are quite correct, but the real complaint is with the false platitude.
I will say that if one's wonder at the universe's diversity and beauty does not stretch considerably beyond the limits of what all you can find in a box of chocolates one needs to open their world up a bit. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE DOUBLE by José Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) ISBN 978-0-15-101040-0) is one of the two Saramago works made into feature films available in the United States. The film based on THE DOUBLE was called ENEMY and should not be confused with the film a year later called THE DOUBLE but based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky story of that name. (The other film was BLINDNESS, based on the novel of the same name.)
The set-up of THE DOUBLE is simple: While history teacher Tertuliano Afonso Maximo is watching a movie, he sees an actor who is his exact double. For some reason, he finds this disturbing. He eventually figures out the actor's name, Daniel Santa-Clara, but there is further difficulty in finding him until he discovered that that is just a screen name, and the actor's real name is Antonio Claro. So Saramago here has in a sense a third identical person. Given that the original Tertulian was an early Christian theologian who was the first to use the term "the Trinity" and who invented the phrase "three persons, one substance," I doubt the choice of name for the protagonist is accidental.
Saramago has a couple of other stylistic quirks. Several times, he will diverge in a seemingly random fashion--for example, noting that Tertuliano did not have monkfish for dinner and then spending a full page discussing the nature and habits of the monkfish, and how Tertuliano came to know them, only to finish by saying, "Responsibility for this tedious piscine and linguistic digression lies entirely with Tertuliano Maximo Afonso for having taken such a long time to put a man like any other in the VCR ... since Tertuliano Maximo Afonso has, in the interval, done nothing worth telling, we had no option but to improvise some padding to more or less fill up the time required by the situation. Now that he has decided to take the video out of its box and put it in the VCR, we can relax."
He also makes at least one "meta-reference": In describing a shower, he writes, "It was as if a long-delayed blessing had just descended from the shower, as if another purifying shower, not the one enjoyed by those three naked women on the balcony, but the one enjoyed by this man ... were ... compassionately freeing his body from grime and his soul from fear." The three women showering on the balcony is a scene in Saramago's novel BLINDNESS.
One suspects that in the early exchange between Tertuliano and the mathematics teacher, Saramago expresses his feelings about (traditional) science fiction:
"... you're interested in astronomy, you might well enjoy science fiction, adventures in outer space, star wars, special effects, As I see it, those so-called special effects are the real enemy of the imagination, that mysterious, enigmatic skill it took us human beings so much hard work to invent, Now you're exaggerating, No, I'm not, the people who are exaggerating are the ones who want me to believe that in less than a second, with a clock of the fingers, a spaceship can travel a hundred thousand million kilometers, You have to agree, though, that to create the effects you so despise also takes imagination, Yes, but it's their imagination, not mine, You can always use their as a jumping-off point, Oh, I see, two hundred thousand million kilometers instead of one hundred thousand million, Don't forget what we call reality today was mere imagination yesterday, just look at Jules Verne, Yes, but the reality is that a trip to Mars, for example. and Mars, in astronomical terms, is just around the corner, would take at least nine months, then you'd have to hang around there for another six months until the planet was on the right position to make the return journey, before traveling for another nine months back to Earth, that's two whole years of utter tedium, a film about a trip to Mars that respected the facts would be the dullest thing ever seen, Yes, I can see why you're bored..."
Tertuliano see the first signs of sunrise and Saramago writes, "This is how he knew that the world would not end today, for it would be an unforgivable waste to make the sun rise in vain, merely to have the very entity that first gave life to everything witness the beginning of the void." If one of Tertuliano's hobbies is astronomy, he is either a very poor astronomer or a very shallow thinker (or Saramago is one of these), for clearly at any given instant, the sun is rising *somewhere*, and so by Tertuliano's logic, the world can never end.
It is possible that Saramago was confused about astronomy, of course, because he also compares the lives of teachers to "an arduous journey to Mars qthrough an endless rain of threatening asteroids." Given that the vast majority of the asteroids are outside the orbit of Mars and would not interfere with an Earth-to-Mars trip, let alone form "an endless rain," One suspects astronomy was not one of Saramago's hobbies.
I wondered, does Portuguese really use such idioms as "to be handed the world on a silver platter"? So I found the original Portuguese and, yes, it does.
Saramago talks about two ways of looking at history. There is the usual way of starting with antiquity and working our way chronologically towards the present. But there is also starting with the present and working our way backward, trying to see each step, each decision that got us here.
Saramago writes of Tertuliano's girlfriend, Maria da Paz, "[But], being a woman, and therefore closer to things fundamental and essential..." [page 103] This was in 2004, which indicates that perhaps we have not progressed as far as we thought from 1963, when Bantam put the following blurb on the back of a book by Margaret St. Clair: "Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: An incinerator is a writer's best friend. --Thornton WilderTweet
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