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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/27/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 39, Whole Number 1851
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
April 9: EUROPA REPORT (film) and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM April 23: HEART OF A DOG by Mikhail Bulgakov, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change): April 4: David Rountree, Incorporating Real Science in Speculative Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Query (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
How come James got the Giant Peach and Quatermass only got the pit? [-mrl]
Puzzle (sent in by Tom Russell):
APRIL FOOLS' DAY PUZZLE
What is this common object found in an American home? It has 19 different words on it, prominently shown. Giving a little hint would surely be nice... Some of those 19 words appear more than twice. Is that enough clues for that object to be known? Perhaps a math hint will help you some more? MT VOID readers expect one for sure. A little simple grade school arithmetic: Two similar expressions you must pick, Which when solved equal 19 and 84. The answer is in the open for all to see. The object and your eyes have met if your words include all of the alphabet except the letters K, Q, X and Z. If not obvious today, then on the 1st it might be.
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am writing this on a 50-ish New Jersey day. I can see the snow melting and retreating from the sides of my house. I have hopes of March going out like a lamb after it came in like a lion, or perhaps more aptly like a polar bear. It is time to share my impressions of some of the rarer films TCM is showing in April. All times are from the Eastern Time Zone.
I have mentioned KONGO (1932) before, but it is a rare enough film that I thought I should mention it again. I have not seen it in a while so I looked in the IMDB for a short description of the film. Yes, they give it a short description that agrees with what I think about the film. Then I looked at who wrote the description and there was my name. My past is catching up with me. What I said in this very erudite description was, "This remake of WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) made four years later tries to outdo the Lon Chaney original in morbidity. From a wheelchair a handicapped white man rules an area of Africa as a living god. He rules the local natives through superstition and stage magic and he rules the few white people through sadism, keeping them virtual prisoners. He lives for the day he can avenge himself horribly on the man who stole his wife and crushed his spine. Strong and macabre stuff in a nearly forgotten horror film." I'll go with that. [Monday, April 6, 8:30 AM]
If you want an idea of how far comic book hero films have come, you might notice that at 10 AM each Saturday morning TCM is showing episodes of the first big screen adaptation of the comic book character Batman, the serial BATMAN. Lambert Hillyer (INVISIBLE RAY, DRACULA'S DAUGHTER) directed the 15-chapter serial for Columbia in 1943. And "big screen" is just the problem with the Batman serial. Every costume problem if up there several times life size. Lewis Wilson looks a little silly in the often-wrinkly Batman suit. Spandex was not invented until 1959. There are wrinkles on the sleeves and torso. The filmmakers never do get the cowl quite right. Batman looks a little like a court jester. Actually in the serials none of the comic book heroes ever looked quite right. They all had wrinkled costumes. (Adam West looked so much better in the 1960s TV version than Wilson looks in the serials, but that was because spandex had been invented.) The evil Dr. Daka (played by J. Carrol Naish doing a TERRIBLE, racist Japanese impression) turns people into robotic zombies, all for the greater glory of Japanese Emperor Hirohito. Charles Middleton has a minor role as a mineral prospector. Elsewhere in these days he played Ming The Merciless. Sorry, I was going to mention this on-going series last month, but space ran out on me. You can see the whole serial in individual chapters on YouTube or you can use it to catch up to TCM. [Saturdays at 10 AM]
Some films like CARNIVAL OF SOULS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD were made on minuscule budgets and somehow are all the more effective because of that. The story seems much more like it is happening in real life if there is so little spent on the film it has a documentary feel. "Found footage" films work on the same principle. I suppose it did not work for BATMAN, but a good director can sometime make a small budget make the film more believable. One such film is NIGHT TIDE (1963). Dennis Hopper, who to this point had been mostly in major films like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), GIANT (1956), SAYONARA (1957), GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957), took time out to play in this haunting and unassuming enigma of a film with definite fantasy elements. Mora the Mermaid is a carnival sideshow attraction who thinks herself to be a mermaid, child of the sea people. A sailor who is interested in her (Hopper) perhaps believes that is exactly what she is. The style of the film is unhurried and dreamlike with two dream sequences. It was directed by Curtis Harrington. [Thursday, April 16, noon]
My choice for the best film of the month? Have you ever heard of Kong? [Monday, April 13, 8:00 PM]
Why I Hate Travel (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We recently went on a six-day trip to visit Mark's mother in Scottsdale. In addition to all the usual aggravations of travel, we encountered:
1) The parking lot we use at Newark was not taking anyone who did not have a reservation. We had one, but it was in my backpack in the trunk, so we had to pull over and dig it out before we could get in.
2) When we got to the motel, at first they could not find our reservation. This was because we had made it several months ago, and since then the credit card issuer had decided that their database might have been compromised. They issued everyone new cards--and canceled the old ones, but that meant that when the motel tried to charge our first night, the card was refused. Luckily, they held the room anyway (probably because they did not want to cancel a five-night booking), which was good, because they were full. (They did try to call us, but I had given our home number.)
3) We planned on getting together with Mark's brother and sister-in-law Friday at 5:30 at Jade Palace. Mark looked up the number and called for a reservation. They had nothing between 5:00 and 8:00, but Mark wrangled a reservation for 5:15. When we got there, they knew nothing about the reservation and said they did not even take reservations, but in any case, there were plenty of tables. It turns out there are *two* Jade Palaces in Scottsdale!
4) We thought we might need to get a ride to the airport in Phoenix, so we asked my brother-in-law for a recommendation. He suggested Uber. It turns out that Uber is only available to people with smartphones. We do not have a smartphone. (Luckily, my brother-in-law's schedule let him take us to the airport after all--thanks, David!)
5) When we returned to Newark, we had a shovel to clear the snow from around our car, but it was sitting on a patch of smooth ice, and all it did was spin its wheels. Luckily, the lot's manager rounded up a helper and they were able to push us out far enough so we could get traction. [-ecl]
A MOST WANTED MAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In his last leading role, and one of his better ones, Philip Seymour Hoffman is in German government anti-terrorist intelligence and is tracking a Russian-Chechen who entered Germany and Hamburg illegally. Based on John Le Carré's novel this film is something of a workout for the viewer. It does slow in the second half, but then builds to a startling ending. Anton Corbijn directs an adaptation by Andrew Bovell. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
John Le Carré's stories are all densely written and require close attention to follow. A good memory for character names and/or note taking are suggested. Certainly that is true of the first half of A MOST WANTED MAN. Frequently his view of the intelligence community requires skills more like work than entertainment. In a James Bond film one can be distracted by the scenery or by a female without losing the thread of the story. Not so with a faithful adaptation of a Le Carré story. So there is very little glamour in intelligence as Le Carré presents it. I saw this film on DVD and was glad of the opportunity to backup and re-listen to what is being said. It is not helped by Hoffman's mumbling in English but with a German accent. He smokes too much, drinks too much, and cares too much. Somehow in a movie we can tell he smells of cigarettes and sweat.
Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann who has his own investigative team planting an unlimited number of microphones and cameras to spy on suspected spies, terrorists, and their allies. It is almost comical to see him able to spy on just about anything no matter where it happens. His team finds a Russian-Chechen, suspected terrorist who has come to Hamburg to claim his inheritance from his terrorist father. Bachman's team spies on and collect information from anywhere they can get it to try to solve the enigma of the intruder. In this Bachmann's superiors are totally unsympathetic, making demands on Hoffmann and his team. Meanwhile Hoffman gets unexpected support from the American CIA who have sent a representative (Robin Wright) to benefit from Bachmann's findings. For once the CIA happens to be pushing in Bachmann's favor.
It is interesting stylistically that the film chooses to substitute German accents for German language. These days most films would have German characters speak their own language and then would subtitle it. That would probably limit a film's prospects. It is an older convention to use foreign accents for foreign languages.
This is a view we rarely see of intelligence work with different agencies pitted against each other as much as they are the enemy. And just who the enemy is is far from clear. Not all of the fog of war is on the battlefield. Hoffman's last leading role is it own kind of spy film, far removed from the fields of James Bond. I rate it high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. After a limited release in August, 2014, the film is now on DVD and is rentable (currently not streamable) from NetFlix.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1972571/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_most_wanted_man/
SLEEP DEALER (2008) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In what is perhaps twenty years into the future a small village near Oaxaca is dying because a foreign corporation has bought and dammed their river. Memo, a young man who inadvertently caused the death of his father, flees the village and goes to Tijuana where people have jacks installed in their arms to more directly interface with the Internet. Several technologies are projected into the future in a very believable extrapolation of the present. Alex Rivera directs a screenplay he coauthored with David Riker and gives us one of the best science fiction films of the last decade. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Memo, played by Luis Fernando Pena, lives in a remote village near Oaxaca in Mexico. Even calling Santa Ana del Rio a "village" may be overrating it. But the town has been pulled into the negative side of globalization. An international corporation has dammed the river that is the village's lifeblood and is charging the locals inordinately high prices for them just to get the water they need to live. Memo unintentionally gets the village destroyed and his father killed by American drones supposedly protecting the dam so-called "aqua-terrorists." No longer able to live in they place he has lived all his life. Memo flees from his village to Tijuana where he can get a tele-presence job doing work in the United States while never leaving Mexico. To work he has to use a technology that has not yet reached Memo's village. This provides the Americans what we are told they always wanted, Mexican labor without the Mexicans.
Jacks are implanted in the users' forearms so they can connect their nervous systems directly to the Internet, which they see with virtual reality. Installing jacks has replaced the drug trade in the illicit underground economy in Tijuana. The more Tijuana, "the city of the future," has been changed by cutting-edge technology the more it remains the same squalid border town crime center. Leonor Varela (Luz Martinez) is the love interest, who may be another danger for Memo.
Perhaps one problem is that the ending of the film is a little simplistic. One really wants to know what happened next and things might be very different for Santa Ana del Rio given a month or two. There is probably more to the story, but it is not Memo's story.
Director Alex Rivera gives us a film full of plausible evolutions of current technology with a believable if not pleasant feel for how these changes will fit into our world. Rivera throws in some telling touches. When the locals of Memo's village talk to local bots, the bots always speak first in English and then repeat in Spanish. English speakers get the advantage. Memo's town is shown in earth tones. When Memo is in Tijuana the scenery is colored in bright mostly-primary colors as if by neon.
I rate SLEEP DEALER +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. The film is in English and subtitled Spanish, though most of the dialog is in Spanish. SLEEP DEALER is available for streaming from NetFlix.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0804529/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sleep_dealer/
SpaceX Summary (comments by Dale L. Skran):
I've been intending to write a round-up of SpaceX's many activities, but as I'm pressed for time, I was inspired to provide this link to a www.parabolicarc.com blog post that does more or less what I intended:
What SpaceX is undertaking by itself is similar in scope to the US Manned space program in the early 1960s, although costing far less and with many fewer employees. It is really quite amazing to see an undertaking of this scale. It is more amazing that this is only one of many private space efforts going on right now, although it is certainly the largest. A major reason for this is that the very rich have gotten into the space business in a big way, and there seems to be more to come. Another recent parabolicarc post listed the billionaires that are investing in space:
So hang on to your hats, hot jets, and clear ether! The Space Age has really only just started. [-dls]
THE WALKING DECEASED (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Mark's review of THE WALKING DECEASED in the 03/20/15 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:
[Mark writes,] "Our story opens as Sheriff Lincoln (played by Dave Sheridan) awakes in a hospital coming out of a coma and finds the world he knew has come to an end while he was unconscious. (Note the reference to 28 DAYS LATER, and to THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS.)"
Well, possibly referring to those. More directly, referencing (== "lifting wholesale") the situation at the very beginning of THE WALKING DEAD, in which Sheriff Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) awakes in a hospital etc.
(Possibly you knew that, but if so it's not obvious.) [-dg]
I think I saw the first season of THE WALKING DEAD, but have not seen it since. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As probably most readers know by now, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K. Dick (ISBN 978-0-679-74067-4) is set in an alternate universe in which the Axis won World War II. So when Random House put on the back a New York Times Book Review quote saying, "Philip K. Dick's best books always describe a future that is both entirely recognizable and utterly unimaginable," one does not know if Random House realized that THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE was not actually set in the future, or if the reviewer was reviewing some other book entirely, or indeed, if the reviewer was reviewing THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and saying something negative about it.
There does seem to be a misconception about the plot. It seems to me that the book with the book (THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY) is often described as describing our world. It does not; it describes a third outcome, where the Allies win, but where Roosevelt has only two terms, and there are various other differences as well.
The title "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" comes from Ecclesiastes 12:15. If it sounds unfamiliar, it is because the familiar King James Version renders it as, "Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." Several other versions say, "The grasshopper drags itself along." I do not think there is a standard translation that renders it as Dick has it.
The Japanese characters seem to talk in a sort of pidgin English, or rather a stilted and slightly incorrect English. For example, in describing THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY, someone says, "No science in it. Nor set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise." (In particular, it is English without definite or indefinite articles.) At least one reviewer attributes this to racism on Dick's part, particularly as the German characters all speak perfect English. But the American characters also use this "pidgin" when speaking to the Japanese ("One cannot judge by book being best seller.") or even when thinking to themselves ("Pilfer customs right and left, wear, eat, talk, walk, as for instance consuming with gusto baked potato served with sour cream and chives, old-fashioned American dish added to their haul. But nobody fooled..."). The reviewer may be right but there seems to be more to it than that.
THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER by John Brunner (ISBN 978-0-345-46717-1) was written in 1975, but is remarkably prescient about what life would be like in the twenty-first century. (Brunner acknowledges Alvin Toffler's FUTURE SHOCK, so I suppose it is not entirely surprising.) For example, Brunner writes, "He laid a slip of paper in front of her. It bore a message in firm clear handwriting, unusual now that most literate kids were taught to type at seven." We are now apparently just now at the point when children will no longer be taught cursive writing (except for their own signatures--heaven only knows what is supposed to happen when someone gets married and changes their name.)
In his Delphi counseling Brunner anticipates crowd-sourcing as used by Wikipedia and others: Ask a very large number of people a statistical question, consolidate their replies, and "they tend to cluster around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, yearbooks and statistical returns."
As Brunner puts it, "It's rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while nobody knows what's going on around here, everybody knows what's going on around here."
Brunner talks about buildings being "ecofast". We do not have that term, but we do have "green", which covers the same features: heavy insulation, recycling, garden areas, etc.
In his description of late twentieth century geo-politics, Brunner is (not surprisingly) less accurate. (Can it be that technology is driven by the Tide of History and politics by the Great Man?) However, he was pretty accurate with his first Philippine woman president, Sara Castaldo. Brunner said she cut their annual murder rate in half. After the Philippines' first actual woman president, Corazon Aquino, took office, the crime rate did in fact drop considerably.
On the one hand, Brunner talks about "computer remotes", which sound like dumb terminals connected to a mainframe somewhere (the common set-up in the 1970s). On the other hand, it is not clear that a tablet connected to the Internet does not fit Brunner's description just as well.
Brunner anticipates the "murse": "the list of what people felt to be indispensible had long ago reached the stage when both sexes customarily carried bulky purses when bound for any but their most regular destinations." I have talked about this in the context of traveling--these days, the electronics I carry weighs almost as much as my entire suitcase did thirty years ago. Netbook, camera, cell phone, GPS, power cables, batteries, chargers, ... the list seems endless.
But there is more to it than that. Watch a movie from the 1930s or so. When a man gets dressed, he puts in his pockets a thin wallet, a few coins, a handkerchief, and a comb. The wallet had a few bills, and maybe a union card or (rarely) a drivers license. A wallet now contains cash, credit cards (probably at least three), ATM/debit cards, a drivers license, an auto club card, a medical insurance card, a drug insurance card, a library card, several supermarket/restaurant/cinema discount cards, business cards, business cards for *other* people. a couple of photos, ... And it is not just a house key that he might carry (though back in the 1930s people did not seem to lock their doors all the time)--today's man carries a house key (or two, depending on his security system), a couple of car keys, a safe deposit box key, a mailbox key, an office key, a desk key, a briefcase key, ... And that is just the wallet and keys.
(Okay, so that was a bit of a diversion.)
"Having been prepared with a light-writer, which unlike old-fashioned mechanical printers was not limited to any one type style--or indeed, to any one alphabet, since every single character was inscribed with a laser beam at minimum power..." Laser printers were conceived in 1969, but the first commercial implementation was not until 1976.
Brunner seems to have bought into outdated notions of sexual orientation, with the omniscient narrator saying of Halflinger, "Having been jilted by a girl, he teetered on the verge of turning skew [gay]..." (One is forced to say that if every male jilted by a female turned gay, there would be a *lot* more gay men around!)
And there is something odd about Brunner's description of the characters in the first scene: we are told one is a white man, one is a black man, one is a woman, and the man in the chair is naked and shaven. Much later we find out in a roundabout fashion that the man in the chair is also black--perhaps Brunner avoids giving this detail at the beginning to make him someone we can all identify with (gender aside). But there is something about the idea that saying one character is a woman is considered sufficient to describe her, as if no other aspect of her appearance mattered.
The ending of THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER would seem to presage the Eric Snowden, though whether the effect of the latter will match the former is still undetermined (though I would say doubtful). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater. --Albert EinsteinTweet
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