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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/02/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 14, Whole Number 1878
Table of Contents
Puzzle (sent in by Tom Russell):
What common object looks like a circle, a triangle and a rectangle from three perspectives? [-tlr]
The answer will be given next week.
Ellen Datlow Lecture:
Tomorrow, October 3, renowned editor Ellen Datlow will speak on "The State of Horror" at noon in the Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library. Admission is free to all.
Fresh Air (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Pope Francis is as different from what we expect from a Pope as President Jed Bartlett on WEST WING was from what we expect of a President. [-mrl]
Becoming Gregor (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A few years back Evelyn and I were in Manhattan waiting for a train to take us back to New Jersey. We had an hour or so before the train was to leave and there was a bookstore nearby. (Actually this must have been a few decades ago. There are very few bookstores in Manhattan these days. Welcome to the post-literate society.) Of course, a bookstore is a reasonable source of entertainment for Evelyn and me.
I had wandered around the store and eventually got over to a section labeled "Classics" or "Literature." I was curious to see what classics they stocked. I admit it, also I was hoping that among the Jane Austens or Shakespeares they might have a new edition of something like FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA with an interesting cover. Some of the Poe book covers are of interest also. And in general it was of interest to see what of the classics people were reading. Some go in or out of fashion. Anyway, there were two or three schoolgirls also reading the titles of the classics.
One said, "We had to read this for class. It was AWFUL!!!
For an instant I thought to myself I wanted to hear what she had to say about the awful classic. Maybe I could figure out what book she had been forced to read. But with her next sentence I knew what the AWFUL story was.
"It's about a man who turned into a ROACH!!!"
That did it. I knew the story. In high school I was fascinated to read any classic stories that had science fiction or horror or fantasy. One lazy afternoon I was in a library looking at what books were on the shelves. There facing me was THE METAMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka. I figured I could spend an hour and give a classic fantasy a try. What was my response? Feh! Okay, it is a strange story, but not a very good one. I guess it occurred to me to ask facetiously, "Once Gregor Samsa discovered he had the power to turn into a giant insect, why didn't he just turn into something else?" Of course, he does not.
I went back a few years later and read the story again. At least what I read claimed to be the story. But it had gotten quite a bit better in the meantime. Somehow it felt like the author had stepped in and rewrote the story better. Okay, I suppose I appreciated it a bit more. So when the schoolgirl said that the story was AWFUL it occurred to me to ask her what her mother would have thought of the story. What about her grandmother? Her mother probably never read the story, but as someone a little older she might have had a better handle on what the story was really about. After all, she was growing older she might have had to face the sort of issues that Gregor Samsa did. To me the story is about the duality of being what we all are. We are physical animals and we also are minds. And the two are bound together.
The story is about involuntarily changing physically. Through much of my life I liked traveling and have visited all fifty states and something like as many countries. And even now my mind wants to be off exploring Tibet; my body is telling me to take it easy. That takes a lot of energy. I have the ambition, but I perhaps do not really have the physical strength any more. The very thought of that globetrotting these days is tiring. I think like a younger man, but I do not have the strength I once had. Today it is all I can do to watch an evening movie and stay awake.
Clearly I am no longer a candidate for the Explorers Club, as much as I would like to be. There is a duality in me. There is the mind of a young man and the fragile body of the beetle. My high school student might not appreciate that duality. At this age she probably did her share of partying all night. Maybe her mother might or might not understand yet. But the more my body changes in unwelcome ways, the more I will have sympathy for the man who turned into a ROACH. [-mrl]
Ambiguous Titles (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I hate ambiguous titles. Every time I see the film CONSTANTINE listed, I have a brief moment when I think, "Ooh, a film about the Roman emperor!" and then I remember, "No, it's just a film about a supernatural detective played by Keanu Reaves," who Lord knows would not do well playing the Emperor Constantine.
And then there is AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, clear enough in print, but when Mark first asked me if I wanted to see it, it sounded like "Ottoman New York", and until it was clarified I thought someone had done an alternate history, where the Ottoman Empire was not driven back from the gates of Vienna, but proceeded to conquer all of Europe, and by extension, the Americas. A film about a doomed love story is just not a substitute.
And when Mark recommended the "Why We Fight" series to a friend, the friend was disappointed to find that it was about World War II. He had thought it was a series that looked at the psychology, sociology, and politics of why human beings seem to have an instinct for fighting. (That seems like a good topic for a Teaching Company course.) [-ecl]
Proof We Are Living in the 21st Century (comments by Dale L. Skran):
Proof We Are Living in the 21st Century Bulletin #32,753
The latest issue of SCIENCE contains the article:
"Skintight invisibility cloak radiates deception: Differing from previous clunky cloaks, new device erases an object's optical signature." Although the experimental version only covers a tiny area, researchers claim that it should be possible to scale it up to something that actually operates like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. If this works out, science will have mastered the first of Rowling's "Deathly Hallows."
Proof We Are Living in the 21st Century Bulletin #32,754
I received an email invite to a conference call and it contained this: A bot-control algorithm has been instituted that will test whether you are human before letting you in. We appreciate your patience.
Proof We Are Living in the 21st Century Bulletin #32,755
The latest issue of SCIENCE contains the article "A Trial for the Ages: Nir Barzilai wants to launch the first rigorous test of a drug that could put the brakes on aging." The subject of the article is a serious proposal to the NIH by academics to do a large scale test of whether the inexpensive drug metformin can increase "healthspan." If this works out (keeping in mind that this is only the first of many steps), science will have mastered the second of Rowling's "Deathly Hallows."
Proof We Are Living in the 21st Century Bulletin #32,756
The September 13, 2015, issue of the NEW YORK TIMES contained an article "A Dying Young Woman's Hope in Cryonics and a Future." This article deals with a cancer patient who had her head frozen in hopes of a future resurrection. It discusses various recent advances in techniques for freezing brains without damage. If this works out (keeping in mind that brain freezing and thawing is more of a wish than a firm plan right this minute), science will have mastered a version of the third of Rowling's "Deathly Hallows." By the way, the idea of freezing brains has been around for a while. What makes this proof we are living in the 21st century is that the article appeared on the front page of the nation's newspaper of record.
THE PRIME MINISTERS: SOLDIERS AND PEACEMAKERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film adaptation of the memoirs of Yahuda Avner, Israeli ambassador to Britain who was an advisor, speechwriter, and aide to five prime ministers of Israel. This film is a continuation of THE PRIME MINISTERS: THE PIONEERS and tells more personal remembrances of his years in service to the highest levels of Israeli government. Some of his stories are humorous, all are insightful, and this film makes for a compact history of Israel during his years in service. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
At age 84 Yahuda Avner gives us a short history of his years as an advisor to two Israeli Prime Ministers. Himself, he had little power of his own in the Israeli government, but he was a highly placed advisor and aide to an impressive set of the Prime Ministers of that country. He had close relationships with Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. Highly trusted, he shared his insights into the politics of the Middle East with people in power in Israel. What power he had was as an experienced opinion. Here he tells us what the situations were and what advice he gave the Prime Ministers. In return he got to be an eyewitness to the attitudes of the people of power. He witnessed details surrounding events that give a texture to great, if often frustrating, historical events. His observations and insights are told in his memoir, THE PRIME MINISTERS. It has been adapted into two documentary films.
In 2013 Richard Trank directed THE PRIME MINISTERS: THE PIONEERS based on Avner's years serving Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. THE PRIME MINISTERS: SOLDIERS AND PEACEMAKERS is done in a uniform style and picks up his story in 1974, shortly after the Yom Kippur war, which was an extremely costly victory for Israel. The newer film takes us through his years serving Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.
Trank and Avner also take us through the earlier conflicts of the country's military. Among them is a description of the Irgun and the Israel Defense Force coming to violence in vying for. That conflict would have effects in later political differences. Avner gives us his take on acts of sky terrorism, including the mass kidnapping that led to the raid on Entebbe. We are given accounts of Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the Camp David negotiations, and the later assassination of Anwar Sadat. There is the friction between Begin and President Carter, the strained relationship with President Reagan, and the war in Lebanon.
The film covers the history of Israel during the terms of Rabin and Begin. Avner covers the substance of the political decisions made, but he also conveys the texture of being there in the conference room, in the airplane, or at the demonstration. He assesses the people's values. He tells us that Golda Meir was the first Prime Minister who had a genuine understanding and empathy for Diaspora Jews. Yitzhak Rabin he assesses as a man of utter logic. By being present at defining moments for five different prime ministers he may well have had a better understanding of Middle East politics than even the prime ministers themselves had.
The extended interview with Avner is illustrated with news and documentary footage, photographs, and news reports. Voicing the words of historical figures are Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, and Christoph Waltz. This is a respectable adaptation of Avner's book, with a straightforward account of events. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Note: Ambasssador Avner died March 24, 2015, in Jerusalem at age 86.
Film Credits: http://theprimeministers.org/filmmakers/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-pm-soldiers-peacemakers
Operas, Operettas, and Musicals (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Kevin R, and Paul Dormer):
In response to Mark's comments on FERMAT'S LAST TANGO in the 09/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
This reminds me of the question or Issue: what are the differences between an opera, an operetta and a musical? [-tb]
On the musical question there is a reasonable answer at Yahoo at http://tinyurl.com/mtv-opera. [-mrl]
Kevin R writes:
I found this:
It seems to make sense. I'd be interested to know what someone like Paul Dormer thinks of it. [-kr]
Paul Dormer replies:
Well, I didn't get chance to fully read it. My virus checker kept telling me about a malicious link, so I exited.
It's a difficult distinction to make. Opera companies often do all three. For instance, English National Opera did SWEENEY TODD this year--not that unusual--but they have just announced they are doing SUNSET BOULEVARD next year. [-pd]
It sounds like they are going to take some liberties with the material. The title of the 1950 film was SUNSET BLVD. [-mrl]
Remakes (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Kevin R, Peter Trei, Paul Dormer, Philip Chee, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on remakes in the 09/25/15 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
My first thought on reading this was a recollection of a conversation I once had with a man who was putting in a bid to become my brother-in-law.
M: I don't like remakes of films.
Self: I'd agree in general, but there are some good ones, I think. THE MALTESE FALCON comes to mind.
M: What!? Someone remade that classic film?
Self: Yes. It's quite good. Humphrey Bogart is in it.
Kevin R responds:
Oh, that's like THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD with Errol Flynn. Some like the Fairbanks version better. They're both good. [-kr]
Peter Trei also replies:
I think we need to distinguish between 'remakes' which are new films drawing from the same source as the earlier film(s), and 'remakes' which are derived directly from the earlier film.
The Bogart film is actually the third film version of THE MALTESE FALCON, but I don't think anyone would suggest it's a remake of 1936's SATAN MET A LADY.
This applies in spades to films derived from evergreen literature: THE WIZARD OF OZ, PETER PAN, and various Bronte titles for example. [-pt]
Philip Chee asks:
Would that include or exclude all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the Sony "Spiderman" films and all the 20C Fox "X-Mutant" films? [-pc]
Peter Trei also writes:
OTOH, there are films which are explicit remakes of earlier films, such as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which is closely modeled on THE SEVEN SAMURAI (TMS has spawned a small genre of its own imitators). [-pt]
Kevin R responds:
Yet another one is planned for this time next year: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magnificent_Seven_(2016_film). [-kr]
I was more thinking of things like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, THE THREE AMIGOS, etc. For an exhaustive listing, see http://tinyurl.com/void-7samurai [at tvtrope.org]. [-pt]
And Keith F. Lynch writes:
There are lots of classic movies that weren't the first with that name. Two examples that immediately spring to mind are FRANKENSTEIN and THE WIZARD OF OZ.
However, the plot of the silent 1926 WIZARD OF OZ is completely different from the plot of the better know 1939 film, though it does contain most of the same characters.
And of course there are lots of cases of completely unrelated films with the same name. For instance, "Men in Black": The movie about aliens is unrelated to the short in which the Three Stooges become doctors. [-kfl]
Kevin R responds:
Aside from different studios making adaptations of public domain works, another source of similarly or identically titled works is that titles can't be copyrighted. You can trademark something, which could make it difficult to market something with the same title, but doing so in a way that might confuse the buying public could be actionable. If the "trade dress" of the book cover or the movie promotional art is too imitative, expect "cease and desist" letters. [-kr]
Right. I was bitten by that myself. I bought a DVD of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, thinking I was buying the Irwin Allen classic. Nope, it was a crummy 2005 remake in which the rogue wave had been replaced by terrorists. (Not to be confused with POSEIDON, the big-budget 2006 remake, which retained the rogue wave.)
Then there was the time I thought I was buying TRON, but when I got it home and removed the shrink-wrap, I saw in fine print the word "Legacy" after "Tron". That's not a trademark or copyright issue, since the same firm owns both films. But I still feel ripped off. [-kfl]
Tim responds to Philip:
I'd say that [Marvel et al] are in the same category as Holmes, Dracula, the Brontes, Frankenstein, Poirot, et ceretera.
Of course, YOJIMBO is closely modelled on RED HARVEST, IIRR. [-tmb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
That I am only now recommending the novella "What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear" by Bao Shu (translated by Ken Liu; F&SF, March/April 2015) is an indication of how far behind in my magazine reading I am. The problem in recommending this is that it is impossible to describe without taking away some of the impact. The most I can say is that it is not a time travel story, though it has some ideas in common with that genre, and it is not an alternate history, though it has some ideas in common with that genre as well. Its underlying premise has been done before, though Bao Shu has a major variation from all the examples I have read before.
In addition to being a really fascinating work in its own right, "What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear" is also a way for American readers to get some sense of what is being written in China these days (although this work "could not be published in China because of the political content," according to F&SF).
THE FICTIONAL MAN by Al Ewing (ISBN 978-1-78108-094-8) has an interesting premise: cloning has been perfected, but rather than cloning a "new" person as an infant, they somehow can download a personality into a fully grown clone. And this personality is that of a fictional character, whether from literature or from film or from television. (I don't think there were any from video games.) Oh, and this has apparently been going on for a while, so this is really an alternate history in the same way that Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO is. That is, there is a not any real change in society, or politics, or economics, just a minor change in one aspect of how the world works. In THE FICTIONAL MAN, there are clones ("Fictionals") who are basically like actors, but not considered "Real" people. They are discriminated against, relationships between real people and Fictionals are considered perverse and disgusting, and so on. And herein lies the problem: none of this is subtle. The parallels between the social attitudes towards Fictionals and those towards various racial, religious, or other minority groups is just too obvious.
There are a lot of ironies, with Fictionals wishing they were Real, and Reals wishing they were (or at least pretending to be) Fictional. There is even a term for Fictionals so derogatory that it is usually referred to only as the "P-word" (okay, it's "Pinnochio"). There is also some discussion of what difference (if any).there is between Reals and Fictionals. (Hint: At first it seems there is, but it turns out not to be necessarily true simply because of how the Fictionals are created.) I enjoyed some of the discussions, but I kept wishing there was more to the book. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: He had the uneasy manner of a man who is not among his own kind, and who has not seen enough of the world to feel that all people are in some sense his own kind. --Willa CatherTweet
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