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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/10/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 2, Whole Number 1866
Table of Contents
The Counterfeit "Deguello" (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On March 6, 1836, the Mexican Army under the command of President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was ready to attack the Alamo and completely destroy the remaining forces defending it. For thirteen days Santa Anna had laid siege to the mission turned fortress. Now the siege was coming to an end as the defenses crumbled. To encourage his men and to get their blood up he had his bugler play "Deguello". This melody had a specific purpose and was announcing to the Mexican troops that now they must kill with no mercy. This is the music that is played at a bullfight when the time had come for the matador to kill the bull. Literally the name means "the throat cutting." This was that point for this battle. It was intended to encourage the Mexican soldiers and demoralize the defenders.
Those who have seen the 1960 film THE ALAMO may remember the moment in the film's depiction. The theater speakers fill with this melody that sounded like the best of the Tijuana Brass. It is a sweet but sad piece of music. I knew I had heard it in at least one other film, but could not quite place it. When I visited the Alamo, it is that melody that was going through my head. One thing that bothered me was that it did not sound like anything a single bugle could play. Santa Anna had an army, but this melody must have taken several people to play and Santa Anna's army was elsewhere engaged fighting a battle. This would certainly not be the only touch of the 1960 film that would have been fabricated for the film. I was rather skeptical that I was hearing the real "Deguello". The melody can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5RjjRe4dd4.
Then just recently I re-watched the 1959 film RIO BRAVO. John Wayne was defending a whole town besieged by a wealthy rancher who had hires a small army of men to spring a son who the John Wayne sheriff has in jail. To demoralize Wayne and his allies they play "Deguello". And it is the same melody that I already associate with that name, but it is the melody that seems too fancy to be the real "Deguello". One of the characters (played by Ricky Nelson-- yech!) recognizes the melody and identifies it as "Deguello", claiming that was the melody that Santa Anna played at the Alamo. I guess that is a sort of corroboration. But I was still skeptical that Santa Anna's troops would play a melody this complex. I did a little digging.
RIO BRAVO was made the year before THE ALAMO. Dimitri Tiomkin scored both films. My guess as to what happened is that Tiomkin composed the melody himself and put it into the film RIO BRAVO in 1959. There the script identified the melody as "Deguello" and told how it was used at the Alamo. The following year when Tiomkin scored THE ALAMO he found he had painted himself into a corner and would have to use the same melody when he scored the depiction of the battle. Either that or he might have been working on both movies at the same time and made one a sort of allusion to the other. It is by far not the only historical inaccuracy in John Wayne's THE ALAMO.
So I was really anxious to find out what the authentic "Deguello" really sounded like. YouTube came to the rescue. Yes, "Deguello" actually could be played on a single bugle and sounds nothing at all like Tiomkin's version. But it does sound like something else. The first phrase sounds like it could have been borrowed by ROCKY (1976).
It can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsSBC02irr4.
While I am on the subject of Tiomkin, he frequently would try to arrange the music of the film so he could get more money on the side. When he scored HIGH NOON (1952) he wrote the song "Do Not Forsake Me" which was used liberally in the film. The song was very popular and my guess is that it earned Tiomkin a fair amount on the side. After that he seemed to write a song for every film he scored. George Stevens did not want to have a song in GIANT (1956). Tiomkin brought a singer--famous, but I forget who it was- -to the set and introduced him to George Stevens in the hopes of changing Stevens's mind. Stevens claims he refused, but the song did get a release without being sung in the film. [-mrl]
Misplaced 1911 Nostalgia (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
An email making the rounds about 1911 claims (among other things) that there were "about" 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.A. This set off alarm buzzers in my head.
So I did some googling and came up with the following reasonable/believable statistics:
The total of these is about 120, before one even looks at any "one- off" murders: domestic violence, deaths during robberies, and so on.
And indeed, one blog I found cites "Murder Statistics from Statistical Abstract of the United States" (United States Department of Commerce) as saying that the homicide rate for 1911 was 5.5 per 100,000. For a population of about 92,000,000 (1910 census), that would be a little over 5000, *not* 230.
(The murder rate was 4.8 per 100,000 in 2010, a 13% *reduction*.)
So when you get all nostalgic over the way things were, first make sure that *was* the way things were. [-ecl]
ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie (copyright 2014, Orbit, $16.00 paperback, 356pp, ISBN 978-0-316-24665-1) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
ANCILLARY SWORD picks up shortly after ANCILLARY JUSTICE, with Our Hero Breq--formerly a spaceship controlling countless "ancillary" bodies, now a spaceship (fleet) captain controlling countless crew members--being sent off to Athoek Station by the Lord of the Radch (whom she spent the last book trying to kill... it's a thing). I'm not actually sure why "the tyrant"--as Breq calls her--needs to send a ship there, but it doesn't really matter. The reason Breq consents to go (Breq is a spaceship--she only takes orders she wants to take, apparently) is because the younger sister of Lieutenant Awn (whom she spent the last book trying to avenge) lives on Athoek Station, and Breq wants to ... pay her respects or something.
Breq interacts with Lieutenant Awn's sister so infrequently during this book that I don't even remember her name.
I definitely enjoyed ANCILLARY SWORD a great deal more than ANCILLARY JUSTICE, mostly because I didn't spend the entire book being denied knowledge of what was going on. And there was a /lot/ going on in ANCILLARY SWORD: Breq arrives at the station to discover innumerable social injustices crowding up the artificial air, and she immediately takes it upon herself to fix them. All of them. At the same time. There are so many threads running through this novel that it starts to get a little out of hand, and you think Breq can't possibly solve or resolve all of them by the end. Leckie, however, does an unexpectedly good job of pulling everything back together and tying it up properly. It's okay if the reader forgot about one of the plotlines, because Leckie didn't--and there were enough others to pay attention to that it wasn't frustrating to not remember what was going on in that one over there. There isn't really one central plot thread, unlike in the first book; this one felt more like a setup for the final book than one that could entirely stand on its own. (And I would have been happy to let book one stand on its own.)
Breq herself is shaping up to be an appealing character (and I love her tendency to sing without noticing), but the problem I have with her is that--well, there aren't any problems with her. She doesn't really have any flaws; she knows everything that's going on (mostly by spying on her crew), she knows just the right solution for everything that's broken... and even if someone questions one of her decisions, she turns out to be right in the end. Nothing she does every really goes wrong, and it gets a little boring knowing that Breq will do everything right.
The rest of the characters all feel like children? Their emotions and reactions and interactions are all written as stilted and simplistic, and none of them seem real to me. I'm not sure if this is intentional--after all, everything comes to us through Breq's point-of-view, and as a former spaceship, she is clearly Older and Wiser than everybody else, and emotions would seem strangely stilted to her. Except you'd think that after a thousand years being entrenched in other people's heads, she'd be used to them having emotions by now.
I suppose in reviewing any book in this series, it's expected to mention Leckie's choice to refer to everyone using she/her pronouns, but honestly, at this point it's not worth mentioning again. It no longer has the novelty it had in the first book, and it doesn't really accomplish anything; it's just there, another facet of this civilization. If the author had pushed it a little harder, it might have been interesting. That's the case for most of this series, I think: a handful of great concepts, held back and kept shallow so they don't really amount to anything new. While I had a lot more fun reading this book than ANCILLARY JUSTICE, I would have been quite content to /not/ read it, too.
But my favorite part of this series is the fascinating little twists Leckie plays with in exploring language and language barriers--like how "radchaai" means "civilized," in a universe where someone who hasn't been assimilated by the Radch is considered lower class, and how certain things don't translate at all. [-gmk]
ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie (copyright 2014, Orbit, $16.00 paperback, 356pp, ISBN 978-0-316-24665-1) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Ann Leckie's debut novel, ANCILLARY JUSTICE, was one of the most successful first novels of all time as measured by the number of awards won in 2014: Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA, and Arthur C. Clarke. It was shortlisted for a few other awards too. It was heralded, in part, due to its treatment of gender and for me, its concept of ancillaries, the hive mind of the starship that is at once part of the ship and the ship itself. In my opinion, the accolades it received were well-deserved.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE was book one of the Imperial Radch series, and knowing that, many people were looking forward to book two, ANCILLARY SWORD. ANCILLARY SWORD has already garnered lavish praise and a couple of awards, this year's BSFA and Locus awards, and was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula. It didn't win the Nebula, and the Hugos are to be given out next month, so it still may end up with three major awards this year.
A little bit of background never hurts. Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, has split into two different personalities. One is against the military expansion of her empire, and the other, well, wants it to continue. Breq, our ancillary of Justice of Toren from ANCILLARY JUSTICE, is adopted into Mianaai's house, made a Fleet Captain, put in charge of the ship Mercy of Kalr, and sent to the Athoek system to protect it. The other returning character is Seivarden, who really doesn't seem to have much place in this story. Breq, Seivarden, and a 17 year old Lieutenant Tisarwat, who Anaander forces Breq to take as part of her crew, head for the Athoek system and, as you might expect, find more than a few things out of place going on there.
What follows is a series of events that do not seem to have that much of a relationship to each other. Breq, who is called Fleet Captain so much so that the reader almost forgets that her name *is* Breq, attempts to make reparations with Basnaaid, the sister of Awn, whom Breq loved in ANCILLARY JUSICE. She also meets, however briefly, a translator for the feared Presger alien race. She survives an attempt on her life. And there is the question of the missing transportees from worlds that have been conquered by the Radch, who Breq suspects have been handed over to a ship looking to stock up on ancillaries, a practice which has been banned by the Anaander who is Breq's benefactor.
There appears to be a lot going on here, but on the flip side there really isn't. The Imperial Radch series is billed as a space opera, but ANCILLARY SWORD reads almost like a *soap* opera, what with all the family squabbles and intrigue. And to be a bit nit- picky about the whole thing, most of the action takes place upon a space station in the Athoek system, which hardly qualifies it as a space opera. There's a lot of character interaction and development going on, but nothing much else actually *happens* until the aforementioned attempt on the Fleet Captain's life.
ANCILLARY SWORD seems to suffer a bit from "second book in a trilogy" syndrome. It is clear that Leckie is setting up the story for the final book, ANCILLARY MERCY, due out later this year. And while that's okay, my feeling is that in my mind, the book falls far short of not only the quality of its predecessor, but of the expectations that were predating its release. The two major selling points of ANCILLARY JUSTICE, its treatment of gender and its concept of ancillaries, are almost nonexistent in this volume. All the characters are referred to as *she*, and the only time one of the characters is addressed as a male by Breq is when it was appropriate to do so based on that character's societal norms. It's almost as if Leckie is saying "been there, done that", rather than exploring that concept even more than she did in the first book. Ancillaries, while not non-existent, take a back seat in this story. The concept certainly plays a part in this story, but ancillaries are nowhere near as important in this book as they were in the original.
Having said all that, I actually didn't dislike the book. Rather, I was disappointed in the book. It feels more pedestrian than it ought to be. Leckie has built a universe which contains some fascinating concepts and which appears to be set up for a climactic battle between the two Anaander Mianaiis. I hope ANCILLARY MERCY lives up to the expectations that were set by ANCILLARY JUSTICE; if so, that would redeem a series that started with much promise. [-jak]
Pronunciation of Town Names (and Others) (letters of comment by Charles S. Harris and Sam Long):
In response to Peter Trei's comments on town names in the 07/03/15 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
Four of the former Bell Labs locations in NJ were often mis-pronounced:
Murray Hill: Murry Hills
Note: Eliding the first "l" in Holmdel is probably more common than not. Murray Hill is never pronounced Murr-ray. [-csh]
And Sam Long writes:
I enjoyed the discussion on the pronunciation of names in Friday 3 July's MT VOID. I have some comments that may be of interest:
Q, R, S, and T, U V, W, and X, Y, Zee, Or, as it is sometimes said, W, and X, Y, Zed.
http://tinyurl.com/void-20-towns lists "20 Towns Named for Other Towns But Pronounced Differently", of which the best known is probably Lima, Ohio. [-ecl]
Irrational Numbers (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Mark's comments about irrational numbers in the 07/03/15 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
[Mark said,] "Now isn't that interesting? The factor we cancelled from the numerator and denominator is 142857. Notice anything familiar about that number?"
Just to make sure I'm not missing something: You mean familiar because you've just been discussing its 1-rotation, right? Not that it's well-known for some other reason (e.g. it's an important physical constant, or the number of troops in a historic battle)? [-csh]
Right. It was almost the same as the segment of digits I has just mentioned. That is no coincidence. Actually coincidences are hard to come by in math. Pretty much everything is connected to everything else. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
RAISED FROM THE GROUND by José Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-15-101325-8) was written in 1980 but not translated into English until 2012. In general, this is not a good sign, and the fact that even after Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, it *still* took fourteen years for it to be published in English.
RAISED FROM THE GROUND was reviewed in "The Guardian" by Ursula K. LeGuin, who wrote of Saramago, "Saramago left journalism and began writing novels late in his life, as if a fine old apple tree should suddenly grow heavy with fruit." LeGuin compares RAISED FROM THE GROUND to two other "novels of the oppressed": UNCLE TOM'S CABIN and THE GRAPES OF WRATH.
And that, oddly, may be the reason for the delay. Most of Saramago's later novels have some fantastical element, but RAISED FROM THE GROUND is a realist novel. One wonders if publishers had decided that people expected something "unusual" from Saramago, and so this was put on the back burner.
HAMMETT UNWRITTEN by Owen Fitzstephen (pen name for Gordon McAlpine) (ISBN 978-1-51514-714-3) is a convoluted novel. The author listed on the cover, "Owen Fitzstephen", is actually a character in Dashiell Hammett's novel THE DAIN CURSE. The plot takes place between 1922 and 1959, and begins with the "true" events that Hammett (supposedly) experienced that he converted into THE MALTESE FALCON. The characters are all the people who (supposedly) took part in those events, plus others he met later, such as Lillian Hellman, John Huston, and so on. It turns out that while the Falcon wasn't all it was claimed to be, it may not be entirely mundane either.
In addition to treating fiction as fact, or at least claiming there is fact behind the fiction, Fitzstephen/McAlpine has his narrative jumping around in time, at least at the beginning, going from 1922 to 1959 to 1933 before settling in to a mostly linear story, though with many references to previous events. Even if you do not entirely believe the explanations within the novel, they do manage to explain events that happened in our world. This is a must for fans of meta-fiction and of Dashiell Hammett. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: There exists, if I am not mistaken, an entire world which is the totality of mathematical truths, to which we have access only with our mind, just as a world of physical reality exists, the one like the other independent of ourselves, both of divine creation. --Charles HermiteTweet
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