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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/20/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 34, Whole Number 1846
Table of Contents
Double Lesson (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got a lesson in history and in the importance of proper punctuation when I read in the last issue that Roger I had 300 foot soldiers.
(Don't get me wrong. Greg Frederick had it right but I was proof reading using text-to-speech and did a double-take.) [-mrl]
Is America a Great Country or What? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
So what if we are only 30th out of 65 in mathematics scores, 23rd out of 65 in science scores, 20th out of 65 in reading scores, 26th out of 28 in infant mortality, and 114th out of 195 in measles vaccination rates?
After all, we're 13th out of 75 in per capita firearm deaths, 4th out of 141 in wealth disparity 4/141 (beaten only by Chile, Mexico, and Turkey), 2nd out of 20 in per capita greenhouse gas emissions (beaten only by Saudi Arabia), and #1 in obesity rates.
Is America a great country or what? [-ecl]
Seeing a Floater (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was recently in a movie theater (watching SELMA, I will mention for completeness' sake). Suddenly I saw what looked like sort of like spider leg right there covering a big chunk of the screen. It was not straight ahead, but to one side. I saw it sort of out of a corner of my eye. I looked over at it and it zipped away. My eye went back to where it was originally, but then so did the spider leg. After a moment or two of hide and seek I realized it might have been an optical problem. My eye had developed a floater. At first this seemed like a piece of very bad luck. It had been years since I noticed having a floater in my eye.
A floater is a small moving spot that appears in apparently in front of your eye. Actually the effect is literally all in your head and more precisely all in the interior of your eye. What you are seeing if you have a floater is a small fleck of collagen that is floating in the vitreous humor in the back part of your eye. The vast majority floaters are completely benign and go away in at most six to eight weeks. They are more nuisance than actual threats. In my youth I had gotten them and they went away on their own.
So now I had got a benign floater in my right eye. At first I thought it was a misfortune. I will see something moving in the room and my senses go all at attention. I go to look at what I had seen, but it will flit away just out of sight. That is because it is actually inside of my eye and will move with the eye as it swivels. So I would see the image in my peripheral vision, but if I tried to look at it, it would nip off. The image is always right there until I try to look at it and then it impishly runs off to the side. In the first week it was an irritation. But with a little effort I got used to living with my floater and it bothered me a less. Now I am wondering about the effects of keeping my eye floater around. Perhaps I should take advantage of the positive aspects of having a floater in my eye.
That may sound daft, but it actually is deft. Consider that humans have a need for companionship at some level. If in prison you are placed in a room with nobody else that is called "solitary confinement" and is considered a harsh punishment. The loneliness starts to bother you a lot. There is a basic human need to just not be alone. You really need to have in the room with you a human or an animal that has its own locomotion. You need to have company. You want something to be moving other objects or itself. For survival reasons your brain scans the world looking for movement to bring to your attention. Deny it that job long enough and there are bad effects.
I think at base you have to be giving your mind these little interrupts to keep it active or it will start to provide its own interrupts. Your mind evolved with these interrupts coming from your environment and learned to require them. That is one function of a pet. The pet rolls over in its sleep and your brain registers it. You cannot provide the interrupts yourself any more than you can tickle yourself. You have to be able to surprise yourself, let you eyes observe it, and let your brain say, "no problem." And the source come from what appears to be outside of you.
That is where an optical floater is ideal. Because you think of it as being outside your eye and it actually is inside, it does the unexpected. If you look at it, it jumps away. It gives the impression that it is capable of its own independent motion. It does not need any food or water that I would not normally be eating. It needs no particular care like walking it around the block. It does not leave little messes around. I can say that my floater affectionately follows me around the house. Wherever I am, if I want to look for my floater I know where to find it and it is happy and ready to play the Run Away game. A floater in your eye is just about the perfect pet.
Of course, there is a problem with its short lifespan. How attached can one get to a little flaw in the fluid of your eye? Not very, I suppose. But when it gets old it will probably have outlived its welcome. As of now, even as I writer this report my little floater keeps jumping up on my computer screen to see what I am writing. I assume after two or three weeks of this I will be tired of it, but for now it is charming. Even Evelyn is not THAT anxious to see what I am writing.
Say, on a similar topic, can someone who knows tell me how I can install an operating system on my Mac--the kind like in the movie HER that has its own personality? Now that would be even better than a floater in my eye. [-mrl]
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Matthew Vaughn directs, co-produces, and co-authors a script about a super-special branch of the British Secret Service. Sending up the James Bond films and nodding to films as diverse as INVADERS FROM MARS and THE SHINING, the film has a solid sense of fun. Colin Firth plays a superspy who recruits the wayward son of the agent who saved his life. Firth trains the boy and then together they face off against a high-tech super-villain, Samuel L. Jackson affecting a childish lisp. The story makes little sense but moves fast enough that the viewer hardly notice. This film is astonishing and fun. What could have come off as a bunch of cheap shots poking fun just add to the class of the production. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
When the James Bond films were getting popular they were satirized in the "Flint" movies: OUR MAN FLINT (1966) and IN LIKE FLINT (1967). That almost seems redundant since the Bond films satirized themselves. Unimaginatively, Flint was an agent who just was an expert on any subject he needed, far beyond the capabilities of mortals like you and me. And the film industry forty-nine years later is still challenging Bond by creating super-agents. The latest and very likely the most creative is the preternaturally smooth Harry Hart (played by Colin Firth), agent of the British super-Secret Service. The film is the spectacularly exaggerated spy spoof KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE.
The film opens with Harry Hart, superspy, slipping up and nearly getting killed, but for the help of another agent who saves Hart but gets killed in the process. Years later the heroic agent's son is going wrong in brushes with the law. At the same time the Secret Service is looking for promising material to mold into new secret agents. Hart wants to kill two birds with one stone, bringing the troublesome boy into the organization. Hence this boy with the thick English accent gets his chance to prove himself and become s spy. Taron Egerton plays Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin, about to enter the bewildering world of the secret agents.
Doing a tongue-in-cheek satire is really a dangerous business. There are any number of satirical films, frequently filled with graduates of "Saturday Night Live", that go on for long stretches without ever earning a chuckle. This film has genuine original material and situations some of which work. Toward the end there are some astonishing ideas. The approach is more comic book than James Bond, but it does not talk down to the viewer. This film not only has allusions to Bond films, but if you look and listen you can find pieces of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, THE SHINING, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE BREAKFAST CLUB, 24, PRETTY WOMAN, and others. The dapper British agent with impeccable suit, tie, and brolly may have come from THE AVENGERS or as far back as Ralph Richardson as Major Hammond in Q PLANES (1939). There is also a clear visual reference to Oscar Pistorius.
Problems with script include too easy a visual test to find who are the villains but it is inexplicably only too rarely used. And there is the standard problem that guns seem to have an inexhaustible source of rounds without the user reloading. There is also a puzzle involving parachutes that I believe could have been solved more easily (and safely).
Actually the first little surprise of the film is the banner for the production company Marv. Marv's banner at the beginning of the film can only be read by people not colorblind. There is a rather egregious product placement for a fast food chain.
Familiars in the cast include Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, Tom Bell, and even Mark Hamill. And these days what is a spy film without Mark Strong of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and THE IMITATION GAME? George Richmond is responsible for cinematography with some breathtaking natural visuals and other times he seems to capture a 3-D effect, though the film was not released in 3-D.
This film is really an original, the first of its kind. See it before a dozen imitators come along. I rate KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2802144/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/kingsman_the_secret_service/
JUPITER ASCENDING (film review by Dale L. Skran):
I went to see JUPITER ASCENDING with the lowest of expectations. The tomato-meter reading is a mere 22%, and I'd seen snippets of numerous reviews, decrying the leaden dialog, the lack of chemistry, etc. etc. etc. As the latest Wachowski brothers production, which seem to have been declining since THE MATRIX, JUPITER ASCENDING carried a load of bad karma. I was thus rather surprised to find a lot to like in JUPITER ASCENDING. It reminded me of the sort of stories that Gordon Dickson or Keith Laumer produced in the 1950s where some poor schmo on Earth turned out to the heir to a galactic empire. This story of the "lost prince or princess" is of course a cliche, but it can be a lot of fun. This is pure space opera, and rather like in STAR WARS, you cannot probe too deeply into the underlying technology or the sociology of the galactic empire before it all falls apart. However, the point is to have pure, unadulterated Edgar Rice Burroughs style grand action fun, something which seems lost on a host of movie critics.
Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, an Earth-born cleaning woman who turns out to a "recurrence" of galactic genetic royalty. JUPITER works best as a sense-of-wonder introduction to galactic technology and civilization. The sets, costumes, art direction, and CGI are outstanding. There are even some interesting ideas here, although they will be familiar to any fan of written SF. The movie is over two hours but feels shorter since there is so much eye-candy. I kept waiting for the terrible dialog, the tedious expositions on galactic politics, and the lame humor the critics warned about, but what I saw was decent acting in an average film with a stunning look and feel. Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, a human-wolf genetic "splice" who joins Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), a human-bee splice, in assisting Jupiter as she struggles to survive the vicious politics of House Abrasax. Eddie Redmayne plays Balem Abrasax, the main villain, with a hard-to-understand slithery whisper of a voice.
You can complain that some of the action scenes run on too long, but they are so amazing to watch it didn't bother me that much. There are a lot of just in time saves, but nothing you haven't seen in a multitude of classic pulp SF stories. JUPITER ASCENDING is fun way to spend two hours, and I recommend it to all SF/Fantasy fans. If you can see it in 3D, please do. Few films make more effective use of 3D than JUPITER ASCENDING.
JUPTER ASCENDING combines a +4 look and feel with an average plot, so I'm going with a +1 rating overall. Rated PG-13, JUPITER ASCENDING, is suitable for tweens and up. Probably a lot of younger kids would enjoy it as well, although it is too loud and scary for young children. Lots of action, no sex. The good guys are good and the bad guys are really baaad. [-dls]
Strofe and Antistrofe (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on strofa and antistrofa in the 02/13/15 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
My schoolboy memories of [redacted] years ago lead me to believe that this is part of the chorus in Greek drama. I seemed to recall the spellings 'Strophe' and 'Antistrophe.' Using these spellings led me to a Forry Ackerman moment via Google, for example http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/28625/antistrophe.
Obama in Washington
Obama, President of America
Michelle, his wife
Biden, the Vice-President
Chorus of News Anchors
The scene: The White House Lawn
Great and good must the man be who, against all the odds of the prejudices and ignorance of society, achieves the highest office in the land. Surely the gods must smile upon such a man.
Those very same gods have ordained that a man who leads the people is their servant, not their master. For such is the just order of the city.
ENTER: Obama, Michelle, their children and Joe Biden.
Obama: O, gleaming virgin stones which welcome me, how glad I am to see thy shining selves.
Michelle: Mind that bag, Biden. Don't jog my Lord's golf clubs.
Et cetera et cetera et cetera.
The URL directs to an ordinary definition; the example appears to be Tim's own. [-ecl]
LUNCH and Gary Owens (letters of comment by Kevin R, Paul Dormer, Tim Bateman, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's review of LUNCH in the 02/13/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:
Sadly, Gary Owens just passed away.
Paul Dormer notes:
When hearing that name on Rowan and Martin in the sixties (probably the most prominent exposure he had in the UK) I was amused to discover that a garryowen is a type of kick in rugby football.
And those of you who remember television sports in the sixties will remember the late great Eddie Waring, who used the alternative name for it, an up-and-under. [-pd]
Wiki doth say the "bomb" kick got the nickname from the club of the same name in Limerick, Ireland. The traditional air became the song of various US, British and Canadian military units. Whenever a film features Custer and/or the US 7th Cavalry, you will hear it.
Gary Owens' given name was Gary Bernard Altman, so maybe no actual Limerick connection.
So many of his credits are in animation, with many SFnal or fantastic themes: Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, and many others.
We didn't get much of either Rugby code on US TV then, though NBC had US Rugby Sevens on recently. Now, Gary Owens may have spun a Fred Waring tune on the radio, now and then. :) [-kr]
Tim Bateman responds:
Perhaps Mr Altman changed his name in homage to the military?
Fraser in one of the Flashman books refers to 'Garryowen' as a specifically cavalry song IIRC. [-tmb]
Keith F. Lynch adds:
Hal Kanter and Sid Caesar [also in the film] are also deceased. [-kfl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
MANUAL OF PAINTING AND CALLIGRAPHY by José Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero) (ISBN 978-0-547-64022-8) was Saramago's first novel, and did not do well initially; Pontiero speculated that the title made critics and readers think it was a handbook for art students. The good news for readers is that Saramago had not yet developed his punctuation quirks, so there are quotation marks setting off direct speech, and sentences end with periods.
Early on, the narrator (called only H.) says if he were more assertive, "I would not be this triple man who for the third time is going to try to say what he has unsuccessfully tried to say twice before." This refers to the fact that he is painting a portrait of a businessman, but with which he is dissatisfied. So he starts a second, secret portrait, but that also is not working out, so he starts a manuscript describing the process--this book. To me it seems as though these correspond to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but this may be based on a non-Catholic perspective: the second painting seems like a child of the first, but the manuscript seem to be of a very different quality/substance.
This idea of a "triple man" recurs in THE DOUBLE (in which the main character has a double who is an actor who has not only his real name and personality, but also a stage name and personality).
And again later, H. talks about examining the subject and then "fabricating a double without flesh or blood but with a threatening illusion of reality." So is the triple/Trinity the subject, the first portrait, and the second portrait, or the first portrait, the second portrait, and the manuscript? Or is it all like an infinite regression of a picture that contains a representation of itself?
Then suddenly we are reading a first-person narrative by Robinson Crusoe ... what the heck is going on here? After a long paragraph of this, we get "Since starting to write, I have copied texts on a number of occasions for one reason or another: .... Here I have done it to keep my hand in training, as if I were copying a picture," and we cannot help but flash back to Jorge Luis Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote". (Well, I cannot help it; maybe you can.) And the whole chapter touches on what John Searle writes about in "The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse"--when H. writes "My name is Robinson Crusoe," that is a lie, but when we read Defoe's novel, we do not think of it as a series of lies.
Portiero uses the words "artemages" as a parallel with "art" and "artifact." The problem is that there is no such word, so the meaning is not clear. Later, he uses the word "remiges" and says that both "remiges" and "artemages" are Gallicisms; however, "remiges" is a real word.
H. says, "Taken refuge in [a monastery] overcome with remorse ... is what the pilot did who dropped the bomb over Hiroshima (or was it Nagasaki?)," but neither Paul Tibbetts nor Charles W. Sweeney (the pilots for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) entered a monastery nor even expressed regret for their actions.
H. expresses the idea that in Vitale de Bologna's painting of "The Life of Saint Antony Abbot", the "various planes with multiple perspectives, which place the viewer at every possible angle simultaneously" the effect "is probably the same as that created by representing a fourth dimension wherein one can imagine an additional dimension." Or maybe it is just that Vitale had a poor grasp how perspective.
Saramago toys with alternate history when he has H. muse, "If Jesus had died on the Mount of Olives from that hemorrhage [described in Luke 22] which turned out to be benign and not fatal, would there have been any Christianity? And without Christianity history would have been altogether different, the history of men and their deeds; so many people would not have been immured in cells, so many people would have met a different death, not in the holy wars nor at the stake with which the Inquisition tried to justify its own relapsed, heretical and schismatic nature. As for this attempt at autobiography ..., I am convinced it, too, would be different. For example, what would Giotto have painted in the Chapel of Scrovegni? Arcadian orgies of a mythology which persisted into the Middle Ages, if not to the present day? Or would he simply have been a house painter who was there not to paint the chapel but simply to whitewash the walls in the Scrovegni household?"
Of St. Peter's, Saramago writes, "On the right once stood Michelangelo's 'Pieta', which some suspicious madman vandalized." This refers to the attack on the sculpture by Laszlo Toth on May 21, 1972. It was repaired and returned to its place, but presumably after Saramago wrote MANUAL OF PAINTING AND CALLIGRAPHY in 1974.
Speaking of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Saramago writes, "Salazer continued to govern, then fell from his throne, rotted and died." As i noted in my comments on "The Chair", this is not a mere figure of speech--Salazar really was reported to have died because he fell off a chair (or rather he had it collapse under him), but only after lingering for two years.
Saramago makes reference to several leaders in Portuguese history, and who influenced them. Salazar I have already discussed; when Saramago says, "Marcelo Caetano ... looks at the world around him and can find no one to follow," he is talking about the leader who followed Salazar after the latter's accident, from 1968 to April 1974, when he was overthrown by the "Carnation Revolution." Given the 1974 copyright of the book, one suspects that Saramago wrote it before Caetano's ouster, and so this is another example of a book being overtaken by current events (though Saramago does add of Caetano, "The hour of his putrefaction is nigh").
[This is why Ken Liu's solution in THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu (no relation) is excellent: he footnotes historical references that the Chinese readers would know but that English-speakers would be unfamiliar with. Ken Liu discusses this and other translation issues on an episode of the Coode Street Podcast.]
An example of another of the problems of translation is found towards the end of the book. In English, it reads, ""'My love.' To repeat those two words on ten pages, to go on writing them uninterruptedly without any clarification, slowly to begin with, letter by letter, carefully tracing out the humps of the handwritten m, the loops of the y and the l, the startled cry over that o, the deep riverbed excavated by the v and the slack knot of the e." Except, of course, in the original Portuguese, the words were almost definitely "meu amor", and while some of the letters are the same, many are not. Yet this is an important passage, because it emphasizes that H., as an artist, is not concerned only with the meanings of words, but with their form and the shapes of their letters (hence calligraphy rather than merely writing).
This novel does not have a standard structure: it starts with the narrator musing on his painting of portraits, then intersperses chapters discussing paintings and other artwork the narrator has seen on a trip to Italy, and finally jumps (rather abruptly) into a political novel. So far, it is the most atypical Saramago novel I have read.
[And, yes, I've been on a bit of a Saramago binge lately. I have suggested a panel on Saramago for this year's Philcon, which probably means I'll be on it, which means I should make sure I've read all his fiction.] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Thus every dog at last will have his day - He who this morning smiled, at night may sorrow; The grub today's a butterfly tomorrow. --Peter PindarTweet
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