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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/06/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 19, Whole Number 1883
Table of Contents
Ukraine and Darth Vader:
"A statue of Vladimir Lenin in the Ukrainian city of Odessa has been given a sci-fi twist--by being transformed into Darth Vader."
And from last year:
"Sixteen men named Darth Vader have registered to run in Ukraine's parliamentary elections."
Air New Zealand Runs Rings Around the Competition (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When it comes to getting people to pay attention during the safety instructions, Air New Zealand seems to have found a way. (But I wonder how many people really are paying attention and how many are just enjoying the scenery.)
Fundamentals (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching a documentary about Britain's National Gallery. In one segment the staff is discussing whether it is good or bad for the museum that the finish line for an annual running marathon should be in front of the National Gallery. The issue ended in real disagreement among the staff.
It occurred to me that we have human institutions in a natural setting. Everything in the natural setting, if examined closely enough, comes down to mathematics. All human institutions, examined closely enough, come down to politics. If you are interested in sound or the orbits of planets, you have to understand mathematics. If you want to show people the beauty of art paintings, you eventually have to get involved in politics. [-mrl]
Spot Removing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, there is bad news and there is good news. Don't worry. The bad news is bad, but it is not something you have to worry about really soon. In fact, if you just forget the bad stuff you can live perfectly happily for the rest of your life and never think about this negative tiding again. It is involved in astronomy and astronomical bad news tends to not greatly afflict or affect our lives. It is as if I told you that the sun has just another five billion years to live. Then it will swell up and will radiate less heat and become a red giant. I will not mourn the old sun because I will not be around to mourn.
But there are people who do take personally astronomical news such as that Pluto no longer qualifies as a planet. Well, it really never did. And they will feel a genuine sense of loss. This is that sort of bad news. It deals with another icon of the solar system. It even occurs in a peaceful place in the solar system. It is happening on one of the more placid planets. Jupiter is pretty when looked at close up but you see it has what looks like stripes with spinning vortices in the gas. And it is one such vortex that is Jupiter's biggest claim to being endearing. That is of course the huge rid spot that is the center of what is essentially a hurricane. It turns out the giant red spot is sick. Or looked at another way Jupiter is showing signs of getting better.
Since the 1930s we have known that the red spot on Jupiter is shrinking. About when H. G. Wells was writing about Mars the red spot was measured at about 25,500 miles across. That must have been something. Would you believe that it is now only about 10,250 miles across? That would cover something like 1/6 the size it used to be. 5/6 is gone. It probably will not happen in your lifetime or mine, but the storm may be getting ready to blow itself out entirely. Jupiter's biggest excitement may die out before it really properly gets started.
What is going to happen to Jupiter if the storm dies? The planet will lose a lot of its allure. It is just going to become one enormous Neptune. No spark of appeal there at all. Jupiter is as massive as 18.5 Neptunes, but what does it offer astrophiles? Not much pizzazz. Without the red spot who will get excited about Jupiter?
Well, you could make a case for it. Jupiter has about 5/7 the mass of the known planets of the solar planets. But how do you glamorize Jupiter with that? I mean it is one thing to see a photo of Jupiter and see this giant red zit on its chin. But what will happen if it clears up? Will people look at Jupiter and say, boy, doesn't that look massive? You can't tell from a photo how much mass is there. Jupiter also spins faster than any other planet in our solar system. One Jupiter days is about ten of our hours. But that is not all that photogenic either.
Even the Moon you can glamorize by showing footprints on the surface. I don't even know what happens to you if you try to walk on Jupiter (or any gas giant). You probably crush before you find anything solid to stand on. It makes you wonder how do you define the diameter of Jupiter. It is the length of a line segment that goes from where to where?
The red spot storm is shrinking, but the rate of shrinkage it now appears is slowing down. The size function may have a negative first derivative, but it has a positive second derivative. Perhaps we are just observing the red spot between the acts. The storm may be picking up again. Or perhaps nobody living now will ever know. We are such puny and ephemeral creatures. [-mrl]
Candidates (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
With the Presidential election just about a year off, I got to thinking about the candidates.
It used to be that I looked for a candidate with whose positions I could agree. Now II look for a candidate who actually engages with reality, and who does not deny facts.
What do I mean by this? Whether "trickle-down" economics works or whether one is pro-choice or pro-life is a position. That gravity exists and that the earth is round are facts.
So rather than try to match up positions, I am looking for a candidate who accepts:
Engaging with reality also means not promising the patently impossible. It is not possible to find and deport 11 million aliens in a year. It is not possible to end illegal immigration.
I also want candidates who recognize what the Constitution says. They may disagree with it and call for an amendment to change it, but they should at least acknowledge what it currently says, and that includes birthright citizenship, no establishment of religion, and no religious test for office. [-ecl]
BONE TOMAHAWK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Cowboys and troglodytes make for an unusual combination. This is a Western that is also a comedy until the good humor runs out and what is left turns into a grim horror film. Against a background of the American Southwest we have a story of a kidnapped woman and a posse that goes off to try to rescue her and finds it a deadly matter. The film is surprisingly entertaining, featuring Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins. S. Craig Zahler writes and directs a film that is at times warm and at times graphically violent. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler warning: This review contains potential minor spoilers.
One popular type of film is the road picture. Two or more people traveling the road together learn about each other and see each other under stress. The same sort of arrangement also happens in Westerns, but for the fact that they frequently do not have roads. I suppose they should be called "trail pictures." TRUE GRIT or LONESOME DOVE probably would qualify as trail films. Usually these films will have some comedy mixed in to develop the characters. BONE TOMAHAWK is one of these and mixes in both comedy and horror and does a decent job of each. The horror is explicit and harrowing. Just seeing a Western is rare enough these days. One just has not gotten many horror Westerns since BILLY THE KID MEETS DRACULA. This film is one of the stranger westerns ever made.
Our story starts in Bright Hope, one of the flea specks of the American West from the cowboy past. It seems someone--nobody is exactly sure who--raids the town and takes prisoners, including Samantha O'Dwyer (played by Lili Simmons) wife of the Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson). Patrick is recovering from a broken leg but insists on hobbling along to join the search for his wife. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell who seems to be reviving much of the persona he created for Wyatt Earp in TOMBSTONE) organizes a posse including what turns out to be a racist gunslinger (Matthew Fox) and an over-the-hill deputy (Richard Jenkins). Together they set off to find the Indians or whatever it was that raided their town-- "Troglodytes," an Indian declares.
The film is 132 minutes long, which gives the men plenty of time on the trail to get to know each other better. Meanwhile Arthur (of the broken leg), who was in no condition to walk at all much less join a posse, shows incredible spirit agonizingly walking on a broken leg to keep up with the rest of the posse. They are chasing people who seem to be local folklore who are suspected as being total savages and cannibals. Along the line there are incidents that reflect on the local white men's relations with local Indians and Mexicans.
The film features a throng of familiar, if mismatched, faces including Sean Young, James Tolkan, David Arquette, Sid Haig, and (of all people) Fred Melamed of A SERIOUS MAN. This is the second film written and the first one directed by S. Craig Zahler, who has a whimsical touch for writing dialog even in unthinkable circumstances. While the last part of the film seems an odd match for what comes before it, the talk remains strangely off-center and going off in odd directions.
Many people who enjoy the first half of the film may be surprised or even shocked to go where this film will take them. It is almost like it came from another film. I rate BONE TOMAHAWK a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2494362/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bone_tomahawk/
We Are All Science Fiction Fans (comments by Dale L. Skran):
We live increasingly in an SF world, where the once minority taste of speculative fiction is mainstreamed. The leading comedy, BIG BANG THEORY, concerns a group of comic and media SF fans who are also scientific geniuses. The current #1 movie is THE MARTIAN, classic SF for certain. TV is bloated with fantasy, SF, superhero, horror, and techno-thriller themes. And now it has come to this-- SCIENCE magazine, the leading United States scientific magazine, and the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has in the latest issue (30 October 2015) four pages devoted to reviewing not just the 2015 Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning novels, but also all the nominees for Best Novel for both awards. At this point, we are all SF fans. This should come as no surprise, as the International Space Station just celebrated fifteen years of continuous human presence in space. Ad Astra. [-dls]
Lofgeornost (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Old English word "lofgeornost" in the 10/30/15 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
Borges has it right. "Lofgeornost" means "most desirous of renown", not "most deserving of renown", and any translator who takes it to mean the latter reveals his misunderstanding of the Anglo-Saxon ethos--which is why I've always maintained that one can judge a translation of BEOWULF reasonably well by looking at how that final word is rendered. [-fl]
Thanks--I suspected I would hear from you. In fairness, I may have misremembered at some point exactly what the definition was. [-ecl]
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, Douglas Fairbanks, and Silent Films (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Gary McGath, Alan Woodford, Paul Dormer, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on THE THIEF OF BAGDAD in the 10/30/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I really wanted to like the silent THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, but Fairbanks's acting in it is more like voguing. He is constantly pulling happy faces (to say I AM HAPPY!) and miming so much that it's really hard to believe he could successfully steal anything.
At one point, he SEES (and points with his arm, shoulder, and latissimus dorsi) a PIE! AHA! It will TASTE GOOD (licks his lips) in his TUMMY (which he rubs for us). HA! HA! HA!
For, as the Prophet has written, enough is enough! Fairbanks does much better in other movies, so I'm inclined to think the director figured nobody could read the title cards or something. [-kw]
I am not sure I would recognize voguing. Fairbanks did sort of mug for the camera, but that is somewhat in the silent acting style. He is supposed to be a powerful character and his acting is large. He never chuckles, but he does le out with a belly laugh that takes his whole body. That is just how Fairbanks plays him.
As an aside, the oldest film with the title THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD was made in 1961. That was one of the titles that IL LADRO DI BAGDAD had for American release. It seems that after that most foreign productions used the spelling "Baghdad" and American productions spell it "Bagdad". [-mrl]
There was naturalistic acting in many silents. Playing for the back rows was, I think, regarded as hokey even at the time. Yes, there was a bit more vestigial sign language going on in silents, and trying to tell a story through face and gesture. If you have ever told someone to say a couple of sentences with their mouth moving and no sound coming out, you will have seen them overcompensate in a way that tells an observer that they aren't making any sounds, whether they have an audio input or not.
I have seen silent movies. I contend that, even in the context of silent movies, that Fairbanks was overdoing it, laughing with his head thrown back every time anything happened, and pushing his miming so much--pointing, acting out what he is saying, leering-- one might suspect he had been told that there would be no intertitles at all. I've seen him do much better than that. [-kw]
I think Fairbanks intentionally played this role large. How one acts if mouthing dialog is irrelevant. The films were silent; the actors acting were not. It would not work for long if the actors were only mouthing their words. Other actors needed to hear what they were saying so they could react. Yes, we call them "silent" films. But the actors spoke their lines and there were often even musicians making music to set the tone of the scene for the actors.
Fairbanks's acting was an intentional decision as the best way to play the character. THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is one of just a handful of silent films that have remained popular. Audiences really like it the way it was played.
What do you think of the Cowardly Lion in THE WIZARD OF OZ? Should that performance have been more restrained? [-mrl]
Gary McGath writes:
I love silent movies when they come with live accompaniment. Fortunately, due to one very active guy (Jeff Rapsis), there are lots of them in my neighborhood. [-gmg]
Alan Woodford replies:
We've seen a few presented like that, thinks like THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, with some guy named Valentino and a full orchestra, at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
Not only silent movies, although I will admit 2001 doesn't have huge amounts of dialogue :-) [-aw]
Paul Dormer adds:
I've seen Abel Gance's 1926 film NAPOLEON with a live orchestra maybe a dozen times. [-pd]
Keith Lynch writes:
I find silent movies difficult to follow. Similarly with wordless comic strips. I'm sure this is because I'm verbally rather than visually oriented.
There's nothing wrong with something being from another age or meant for a different audience. I enjoy books that are far older than any silent movie. [-kfl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In FOUNDING BROTHERS by Joseph J. Ellis (ISBN 978-0-375-70525-3), Ellis writes about people such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and so on, but he writes not of the man but of the moment. He does not cover Washington's career except as it pertains to the moment: Washington's "Farewell Address". Jefferson is described only for his role in the dinner meeting of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison about the assumption of Revolutionary War debt by the Federal government and the ultimate location of the nation's capital. (These seem unconnected but were both involved in the "Compromise of 1790".) Not surprisingly, Aaron Burr is covered only for his part in the "Interview in Weehawken." (Duels were euphemistically called "interviews".) The chapter about the duel reads something like "CSI: Weehawken" in that it spends a lot of time analyzing the evidence and testimony about the duel to determine exactly what happened: who fired first, whether each of them was actually attempting to hit the other, and so on. This is because after Burr and Hamilton were in position and started counting (or whatever), everyone else either left or turned their backs so that they could all truthfully say that they did not witness any duel.
However, there is also an interconnectedness in people's lives. Hamilton is a major player in several of the moments chosen, for example, but discussion of him is confined to those events.
At one point, Ellis encapsulates one of the dilemmas of alternate history: "Though we might wish otherwise, the history of what might have been is usually not history at all, mixing together as it does the messy tangle of past experience with the clairvoyant certainty of our present preferences."
The chapter about a moment of abolitionist effort, is called "The Silence" because for decades there was an agreement never to talk in American politics directly about slavery (and naturally the agreement was also unspoken). One need only look at the oblique references to slaves and slavery in the Constitution to see how this worked. At the time, Benjamin Franklin wrote (under the pseudonym "Historicus", supposedly reporting something written by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, but it fact penned entirely by him) a speech which took all of the arguments *for* slavery given by white Southerners and with very few changes (e.g., the Koran for the Bible) and explained why it was good and proper for Muslims to enslave Christians and keep them enslaved in perpetuity. Oddly, this did not convince Southerners to change their minds.
FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72 by Hunter S. Thompson (ISBN 978-0-87932-053-9) is proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Even when they are different, they are part of a continuing trend. For example, Thompson starts his series of articles eleven months before the election and thinks *that* is very early, yet we are having debates *fifteen* months before the election. I am sure that a graph of when campaigning for a Presidential election started would show a monotonically increasing function since campaigning began.
Some changes just make us smile, though. Thompson expresses outrage that he has to pay $1.50 an hour for parking in Washington, DC, or that a club would charge $1.75 for drinks.
However, I gave up about halfway through--I found Thompson's style very off-putting, and I also found his description of the political process very depressing. Probably accurate, but depressing.
LA NOVIA DE CORINTO Y OTROS CUENTOS DE ANGELES Y HECHOS SOBRENATURALES by Amado Nervo (ISBN 978-84-8211-246-6) is a collection of fantasy stories by an author who is known for his poetry even though his prose works outnumber his poems three-to- one. (One is reminded of Isaac Newton, who wrote much more about alchemy than about what we consider science.)
Nervo lived from 1870 to 1919 and was the first Mexican science fiction writer. However, only one of his thirteen science fiction works is available in book form in my library system, so I decided to try this volume of some of his fantasy works instead, since it does contain that one science fiction story.
(Two notes: Manuel Antonio de Rivas was a Franciscan friar who wrote science fiction in Merida in the 18th century, but he was Spanish, not Mexican in the way that appellation if used today. And many of Nervo's science fiction works are available on-line, because by now they are in public domain.)
LA NOVIA DE CORINTO Y OTROS CUENTOS DE ANGELES Y HECHOS SOBRENATURALES ("The Bride of Corinth and Other Stories of Angels and Supernatural Beings") is a fifty-page book comprising an introduction, ten stories, and a glossary. The latter makes me think this was aimed at what we would call a "young adult" (or younger) audience. (It is published by Letra Celeste-Minuscula, which from the name one assumes specializes in these very short books.)
The stories are actually fairly insubstantial, and seem more focused on a "twist" ending than any depth of plot or even characterization. The title story ("La novia de corinto") is just a variation on the urban legend of a visitation of a dead girl who leaves a token to prove her presence. In the song it is a sweater; here it is a ring.
"El heroe" ("The Hero") is about a fearless soldier in World War I who receives all sorts of commendations for heroism. After he is finally killed in battle, a letter from his wife is found in his kit, telling him she does not love him, but loves another with all her heart and soul. Apparently, he enlisted the day after receiving it, insisted upon being sent to the front lines, and was just trying to commit suicide.
There is one story in this volume that J. Patrick Duffey in his essay in LATIN AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS considers science fiction: "El pais en que la lluvia era luminosa" ("The Country in Which the Rain Was Luminous"). In some sense, it has a Wellsian feel to it, but with more poetry than H. G. Wells included in his stories, and less plot. The luminosity is entirely scientific, due to the same micro-organisms that create bioluminescent bays today. (However, I cannot swear that it is possible to have these organisms sucked up when the water they lived in evaporated, so that they descended in the rain.) But when Nervo says, "From the thousand gargoyles of the Cathedral fell tenuous milky filaments," or, "The monstruous medieval [gargoyles], crouching in grotesque postures, seemed to cry starry tears," one has to acknowledge that Nervo is the poet that Wells is not.
I say that "El pais en que la lluvia era luminosa" has less plot than an H. G. Wells story. This is also true of "El obstaculo" ("The Obstacle"); in fact, "El obstaculo" has a very Borgesian feel to it, reminding me of "Las ruinas circulares" ("The Circular Ruins"). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Dachshunds are ideal dogs for small children, as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that a child cannot do much harm one way or another. --Robert Benchley (1889 - 1945)Tweet
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