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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/22/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 47, Whole Number 1859
Table of Contents
Nobody There? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Where I live I get a lot of phone calls in which there seems to be nobody at the other end. It is probably telemarketers who want to register my phone as one that answers, but it could be obscene phone calls from Marcel Marceau. [-mrl]
My Annual Fight(s) with the Jaws of Death (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This article is based on true events in the early part of 2015. This is the part of the year I like least. It is the early days of winter so the days are short. Nature is given over to cold and dark. Even as the days start getting a little longer the world around me is getting colder. The longer days give false hope.
But talking about that only makes things worse. Not least among the things I hate doing is finish up the financial matters of the year's end. We keep documents a certain number of years and then destroy them. While matter/energy can be neither created nor destroyed, I do the best I can. Financial papers can be destroyed (mostly), but only at very high cost.
We have a nice cross-cut shredder. It happens to be my least favorite appliance in the house. Compared to it, the can opener is great. But I won't go into that. The shredder converts private papers into strips a quarter of an inch by maybe two inches. I HATE the damn thing. This year we had a four-inch high stack of paper to dispose of. Why was there so much? Let's leave that between me and the British Secret Service.
I want you to picture somebody using a paper shredder. What does it look like? Some beautiful but dignified secretary, stylishly dressed, drops a sheet of paper into a box and out the other end drops strips of paper ready to be dumped on a Fifth Avenue parade. All this under a warm sun someplace comparatively pleasant like Tehran or Baghdad.
Would it help you to get a clearer picture if I told you that a good eighty percent of the time I spend shredding paper is spent trying to un-jam the machine. Each year I come to the machine saying this year would be different. This year I will only feed two or three sheets at a time. This year I will not get chad all over the carpet. Yes I do. The shredder supposedly can handle eight sheets at a time. That is intentionally misleading. But the shredder has a tractor drive that pulls the paper into the machine, crumpling it as it goes. Voila, the paper in its anxious jaws is more than eight layers and the machine has a license to jam. And it uses that license frequently.
Now when you see that happen you get to use your most valuable tool in the whole process, a pair of needle-nose pliers. You have to use them to perform dry dentistry on this creature. That is removing a lot of little tiny chunks of paper, picking the teeth of the beast.
Let me tell you about the mouth of a shredder. I call it a mouth because it looks like the maw of some horrific sea beast with rows of implacable steel teeth. You go in with your pliers and start picking at impacted wads of paper ground between the creature's teeth. When you remove a piece it tears leaving most behind. If you are lucky (and you almost never are) you have gotten out enough that the opposing teeth can push the rest out. There is only one way to find out. You withdraw your hands and tools from the beast's mouth and plug the beast in. (If you find it is already plugged in you are living on borrowed time.)
Most likely you hear a humming sound. That is not the sound you were hoping for and it means you did not clear the teeth and the beast is packing in bits of paper to heal the damage you did trying to clear out bits of paper. Sometimes the shredder will toy with you emotions. It will sit there quietly mimicking a fixed machine. Sometimes it has cleared itself and it is ready to work. More often it is playing possum and scheming. It has gone back for more paper to add to the congestion. Only rarely does it really clear itself and it stares at you ready for work or more likely to ensnare you once again into its own tangle.
No single strategy works to clear the jam. A move that pull out paper on one side may jam in paper on the other side.
I try to be very careful not to attempt dentistry on the beast until the beast is unplugged. I keep my hands off if the beast is plugged in. And the plug is very tight. I could leave shredder plugged into the power strip and just turn the strip off when I want to try to clear the jam but sooner or later the shredder would turn its own power on and then just sit there looking innocent like something out of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. [-mrl]
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: With a staccato of visual images and strange ideas, George Miller co-writes and directs the first new Mad Max film in thirty years. Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson in the title role as the drifter who joins an armored gasoline convoy in the Australian desert wasteland. The action comes faster than the pace of a videogame, though the plot advances only slowly. What makes the film work for me are the creative and amusing visual images, mostly of armored fighting vehicles, and the kinky view of what a post-holocaust world might be. This film is a sort of action film concentrate as envisioned by a surrealist. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
When the first STAR WARS film was released, it had a much faster pace than virtually any films made previously. The plots were less complex than most films but the action and the visuals were compelling. This had the unfortunate effect that other filmmakers felt they had to speed up their story telling and imitate the successful formula they saw in STAR WARS. Now George Miller is trying to speed up the pace of a film again upping the ante by making and telling what is really a minimal story with super-charged action sequences. It is as if Miller is trying to make an entire film with the pace of a fast videogame.
Several years after the events of MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, society in the Australian Outback seems to be deteriorating even faster. Gangs and violent cults rule the Australian Outback. Warlords run the more vicious gangs and control access to basic commodities like water and gasoline.
Max (played by Tom Hardy) has been captured and is being held by the War Boys--both a gang and a cult ruled by the masked Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who has a spectacular lair that would have made Thulsa Doom weep with envy. Knowing that Max's blood type makes him a universal blood donor, a War Boy named Nux holds Max captive to milk him of his blood. Though a complex twist of fate Max escapes only to end up in more trouble traveling with a big rig owned driven by Imperator Furiosa, a woman whose left arm seems to come and go. Furiosa (played nearly unrecognizably by Charlize Theron) is a gasoline transporter. Right now the capable Furiosa is carrying five women with her taking them to the safety of the green places where she grew up. They are Angharad, Capable, Cheedo, the Dag, and Toast and look like they came from a Playboy spread. Somehow they seem to have access to an improbable source of cosmetics. Are you confused? Worry not. All you have to understand is that what a fight looks like rolling down a road. Really a lot of these details and not essential, since the film is mostly just one very long road chase.
The dialog is very, very sparse and is delivered indistinctly. I am told Miller is intending to export the film everywhere un-dubbed and un-subtitled, as a dialog-optional film. The visuals are everything. The action scenes will do almost all the talking. Rather than thinking about dialog and plot, Miller seems to have spent his effort and budget on images like war machines that may be on the screen for just a flash.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is filled with unexpected visual ideas from the mind of George Miller. Where he shows his imagination the most is with the chimerical fighting vehicles he creates, juxtaposing familiar features in unfamiliar ways. One such imaginative jump is a car chassis welded on top of what looks like a WWI tank. There are a lot of off-color and bizarre ideas on the screen like the milk farm and the chastity belts. (If you've seen the film you understand.) But since they are not discussed, the viewer has to watch this film as closely as if it were a silent film. Images go by too fast to take in. And it pays to see the film more than once or to at least discuss the film after seeing it to get clear what Miller has been showing us.
One wonders how this film with its complex and dangerous stunts ever could have been made without killing multiple stunt people. That is impressive and so is the complexity of the images that Miller has assembled. And one can look at any quarter of the screen and see more action and more amusing detail than is in any three other action films this summer, but you have to look quick. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is an exhilarating non-stop ride through a barren land and a fertile imagination. But the film still needs work on its characters and development of its plot I rate MAX MAX: FURY ROAD a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392190/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mad_max_fury_road/
THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: At the height of the London Blitz a class of children are evacuated from the city and boarded at Eel Marsh house. Big mistake. The house has a vengeful ghost who has an angry vendetta against other people's children. The film is very dark, but the story is very slow and padded out with people's suspenseful wanderings around in the dark house. As a very un-Hammer-like Hammer Film this film is very slow to develop and besides some cheap jump scenes is only mildly thrilling and not very scary at all. Visually it is nice, but it offers very little new. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
For the benefit of those who came in late, Hammer Films is back, at least in name. Hammer was the low-budget but prestigious horror film factory mostly of the late 1950s to the early 1970s. In name and somewhat in spirit it has been resurrected. Now the original Hammer did absolutely no ghost stories for the theatrical screen. However, the new Hammer did a strong atmospheric adaptation of the novel THE WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill. There was a previous film version that ran on television, but Hammer is neither adverse to remakes nor sequels if the new story contained enough that was new.
In this sequel to THE WOMAN IN BLACK London is being shaken and bombarded to pieces by the Germans in the Blitz. Many of the besieged Brits reluctantly agree to have their children taken away from them temporarily and moved out of harm's way. Schoolteacher Eve Parkins (played by Phoebe Fox) comes with her school's headmistress to take a few dozen children somewhere that was not being bombed. Eve has special feelings for the newly orphaned child Edward (Oaklee Pendergast) who is now mute. They will be taken to Eel Marsh House in the charmingly morbid town of Crythin Gifford. (Uh-oh! Isn't that the house haunted by a ghost who wants to kill children? See THE WOMAN IN BLACK.)
Sadly director Tom Harper's sequel to the Hammer version of THE WOMAN IN BLACK, delivers not enough of what it delivers not enough of and too much of what it delivers too much of. There is a lot of wandering around in the dark (in scenes sometimes hard to make out). There are lot of little shocks that make the viewer jump and expect that something important has just happened. And a moment later, with a sigh of relief we realize that nothing scary happened, and with another sigh that the plot did not even advance. This is an exceptionally slow ghost story. We see what might have been one or two flashes of the eponymous ghost, but we are not even sure of what we have seen. Then we return to wandering around in the dark. There may be noises in the night--and the film seems to take place mostly in the night, in the dark--but there is nothing for the eye to rest upon so one can say the ghost has been sighted. If you want to see what the ghost looks like, look at the film poster instead of the movie screen. We do get our fill of ominous antique toys and dolls cluttering up the house. (Somehow it does not matter how kid-friendly a Victorian vintage doll was intended; it still gives one the heebie-jeebies. I think a whole generation of little girls must have grown up warped by the experience of mothering these disturbing-looking dolls.)
A good scary ghost story needs both story and shocks. This film is not without story, but the story is just a whiff. Much of the screen time spent with someone wandering around a haunted house in near dark waiting for something to jump out. And we see little of the ghost. In fact, except for the ghost's penchant for preying on children there is not much reason why this story is a sequel to its predecessor. This is a ghost story that is short on both ghost and story. I rate THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2339741/combined
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-rt-woman-in-black-2
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (comments by Charles S. Harris):
[Member Charles Harris sent this as as part of an announcement of a book and film discussion meeting. That discussion is over, but I thought the announcement was worth reading by itself. You can even follow some of the links. -mrl]
Meteorites impact Woking, England, and Linda Rosa, California, and right nearby in Grovers Mill, NJ. But they'e not really meteorites. They're spaceships with a payload of creepy Martians and their unstoppable war machines.
Will humankind be totally obliterated (or perhaps devoured)?
Or will we be granted a reprieve by a deus ex biota--"the humblest things that God in his wisdom has put upon the earth," as H. G. Wells put it?
H.G. Wells' novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was published in 1897. Forty years later it was adapted for radio:
With Orson Welles as director and narrator, the realistic news bulletins provoked widespread panic and even suicides. Or maybe not: http://tinyurl.com/myth-of-Worlds-panic.
Another fifteen years later the 1953 movie arrived. Its state-of-the-art pre-CGI special effects wowed audiences. As a recent reviewer put it, "[George] Pal's Oscar-winning camera trickery is awesome to behold". Pal laid out a detailed explanation in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION magazine: http://www.roger-russell.com/war/war.htm.
If the flying war machines look familiar (with their re-imagined tripod supports), it's because the same basic design was featured in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.
War of the Worlds sculpture in Woking, UK: http://tinyurl.com/void-wotw-woking
War of the Worlds monument in Grovers Mill, NJ: http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/gall_m7.htm
Martian tripod war machine in Holmdel, NJ (officially, it's supposed to represent a gigantic transistor, but H. G. Wells fans know better): http://tinyurl.com/void-bell-labs-tower
You can read about the "War of the Worlds" tour of New Jersey that Mark and I took on the 75th anniversary of the Welles broadcast at http://fanac.org/fanzines/MT_Void/MT_Void-3218.html#3. It also has a pointer to a much more high-resolution, but very slow-loading, picture of the monument in Grover's Mill. [-ecl]
Deux Chavaux (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's review of THE STONE RAFT in the 05/15/215 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
Please explain: "Or another, this a mathematical/grammatical conundrum: '... there are lots of Deux Chavaux on the road, the expression is awkward but there is no mathematical contradiction.'" [-csh]
Sorry for the confusion. "Deux Chavaux" is the nickname for a Citroen 2CV car and means "two horses" or two horsepower. So while saying "there are lots of two horses on the road" would be mathematically incorrect--there are either two horses or lots of horses (though I suppose you could have lots of pairs of horses)--saying "there are lots of Deux Chavaux on the road" is no different than saying "there are lots of Toyotas on the road." [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE ALTERNATIVE DETECTIVE by Robert Sheckley (ISBN 978-0-312-85381-5) is a humorous hard-boiled detective story, not a science fiction or fantasy novel. The "alternative" aspect of Hob Draconian's detective agency is not that it deals with werewolves (though clearly his name is supposed to evoke the supernatural), or even with alternate histories, but that it works mostly with people who are not in the mainstream of life. Hob's clients are not rich businessmen or movie stars, but people living at the edges of society. Rachel Starr is looking for her boyfriend, who played in a rock band and had taken a job with a very avant-garde film director. And Hob's nephew wants him to collect payment for a half dozen sailboards he sold to someone in Spain. Not exactly General Sternwood or Derace Kingsley--and although Sam Spade is explicitly mentioned, the sub-genre is more Philip Marlowe, with Istanbul as Bay City.
SKYLIGHT by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-544-09002-6) was Saramago's first novel, written in 1953, but when he sent it to a publisher, the publisher misplaced the manuscript and never responded to Saramago. Saramago was so discouraged by this apparent disregard that he did not write anything for another twenty years. Even when it was re-discovered, after Saramago had become successful. Saramago insisted that it not be published until after his death.
One reason for the (implicit) rejection might have been the big cast of characters (particularly in a 300-page book). There is the cobbler Silvestre, his wife Mariana, and their lodger Abel; the four women upstairs who have come down in the world (Aunt Amelia, Candida, and Candida's daughters Isaura and Adriana), Justina and her husband Caetano; Rosalia, Anselmo, and their daughter Maria Claudia; Carmen, Emilio, and their son Henriquinho; and Lidia (an ex-prostitute and now the mistress of a rich businessman).
It also does not have a strong premise the way his later novels do. There is no plague of blindness, Iberia does not break loose and drift westward, the main character does not have a mysterious double, Death does not take a holiday, and no one is visited by the ghost of his dead author. (Given the premises of Saramago's other novels, I find it ironic that the dust jacket copy describes him as "the master of the quotidian.")
In the end, this is a realist novel somewhat overloaded with characters and not (in my opinion) representative of his later work. Probably of interest to Saramago completists only. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: All science requires mathematics. The knowledge of mathematical things is almost innate in us. This is the easiest of sciences, a fact which is obvious in that no one's brain rejects it; for laymen and people who are utterly illiterate know how to count and reckon. --Roger BaconTweet
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