MT VOID 01/29/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 31, Whole Number 1895

MT VOID 01/29/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 31, Whole Number 1895

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/29/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 31, Whole Number 1895

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/back_issues.htm All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):

February 11: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (film), SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (book) by 
	Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, Middletown (NJ) 
	Public Library, 5:30PM
February 25: OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
March 24: HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
April 28: LOST HORIZON by James Hilton, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
May 26: "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred and "Earthman, Come Home" 
	by James Blish (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:


http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html

Ill-Equipped (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the field James Bond always seems to have just been given the gadgets he needs. It is very convenient. How would things be different if he had accidentally had taken just the gadgets of the previous film? [-mrl]


My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for February (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

February on Turner Classic Movies seems to have pretty much a familiar set of classic films. There are two films that qualify as hidden gems that I would like to point out.

Okay, I admit it. To save time I took the last paragraph word for word from a previous year's recommendation for February on TCM. Do you think it is easy thinking of something new and clever to say each month? You try it. Anyway...

In the late 18th century the British Admiralty made the rules onboard the Royal Navy's fighting ships. They controlled life and death on the warship and answered to nobody. The British Admiralty gave navy captains the right to kidnap British and American civilians and seamen to crew their warships. If you remember, the War of 1812 was in part about impressments of American seamen. Forced obedience and discipline was infinitely more important than justice for the fighting men. Discontent and rage grew in the crews.

Things came to a head in 1797 when crews mutinied at the risk of their lives rather than continue serving in the nightmarish conditions imposed by the British Admiralty. The mutiny was like a labor strike. Eventually the Admiralty relented and ever-so- slightly let conditions in their navy improve.

Coincidentally three films were produced in one year, 1962, each dramas set on a backdrop of the mutinies. H.M.S. DEFIANT (a.k.a. DAMN THE DEFIANT!) was an excellent film with Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogart. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY was another, though not as good as the other two. (Sorry, those film are *not* playing on TCM this month, though the 1935 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is playing Sunday the 17th at8PM). The remaining film and my recommendation is BILLY BUDD (which *is* playing). It is based on the short novel by Herman Melville. Terrence Stamp plays a young sailor who is well liked by the crew.One of the officers, Claggart, Master at Arms, takes a dislike to the boy who makes friends so easily and the officer starts a dramatic chain of events. Claggart is Robert Ryan's best role and is a very formidable screen villain. His character has the sort of personality that other people just do not seem to like. He has long since decided that if he cannot get the other men to like him, he can settle for having them fear him. The film is produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov who, although he chews up the scenery, gets second billing as ship's captain. Nonetheless the well-written story comes down to an issue of military duty vs. justice. This is a moving and intelligent film. [Tuesday, February 9, 3:30 PM]

BILLY BUDD is actually based on a true story, though it did not occur in the British but the US Navy. Z is also a film based on a true story. In this case it is a political investigation in Greece. Costa-Gavras made the film based on the novel of the same brief name by Vasilis Vasilikos. French director Costa-Gavras is known for films with a left-wing slant including STATE OF SIEGE, MISSING, and HANNA K. The film and the book it was based on tell a thinly fictionalized account of the investigation of a liberal member of the Greek government--called just "the Deputy" who is attacked when he appears at a political rally. The organizers of the rally try to get him to a hospital, but feel the police and military people who should be helping instead seem to keep getting in the way until it is too late. When the deputy dies The rally organizers claim the Deputy was intentionally killed, a charge the government denies. The police bring in a neutral Magistrate, a member of the police himself, to investigate the death of the Deputy and he determines to get to the bottom of the incident in spite of the politics of the people for whom he works. Z is a nice political thriller and features are very effective musical score by Mikis Theodorakis, a popular Greek composer who built his name on the score he wrote for Z and for ZORBA THE GREEK. [Tuesday, February 16, 2:30 PM]

What is my choice for best film of the month? Once again I would pick John Huston's THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. You cannot do much better than that. TCM appears to agree, since they seem to run it just about every other month. [Saturday, February 6, 11:15 AM] [-mrl]


Light Is the Left Hand of Darkness and Darkness the Right Hand of Light (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

By now, many people will have seen (or heard of) someone who set up their automatic external lighting in such a way that the light shone on the sensor, resulting in a constantly flashing light.

I have a new one. Our new LED lights illuminating the driveway from above the garage worked fine for a few months, but last night they started turning on and off--not flashing, because there was a few minutes delay between cycles, but regularly.

Pause, while you think about it.

Okay, here it is: The LED lights (brighter than our old lights) shone on the (normally black) driveway. However, the driveway was covered with a couple of feet of clean, shiny, white snow. So the light was reflected back up, where it hit the sensor, which said, "Gee, it's light outside; I should turn the lights off." Then it was dark, so the sensor said, "Gee, it's dark outside; I should turn the lights on." So the light was reflected back up, ... [-ecl]


2015 Academy Award Nominees in Short Live-Action and Animation (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):

Again this year I have been given the opportunity to see the short films nominated for Academy Awards. I do not get to vote on them, of course, but I do get a chance to review them. I usually review only feature-length films, but this year I could see the short nominees. In keeping with my previous short film reviews I will rate each film A for excellent, B for good, C for acceptable or D for poor. I cannot say a lot about each film without giving too much away. These are after-all short films. But I will try to comment on them.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM NOMINEES

"Ave Maria"
Directors: Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Country of origin: France, Germany, and Palestine
Running Time': 15 minutes
Language: Arabic, English, and Hebrew

It is Friday afternoon on the West Bank and a car filled with a bickering Jewish family has a car accident just outside a convent. One would think it should be simple to call a taxi for the family, but the Jews cannot use a telephone on the Sabbath and the nuns in the convent are under a vow of silence. Everything they try seems to break the rules of somebody, the Jewish or Catholic restrictions. How can they resolve the problems? The film is slight, but it is amusing. It is refreshing to have a film set on the West Bank that is not being political.
Rating B

"Day One"
Directors: Henry Hughes
Country of origin: United States
Running Time: 25 minutes
Language: English, Dari

We follow a woman on her first day working with the U.S. military as an interpreter in Afghanistan. She is the first woman in this company, and she and the rest of the company are having some trouble adapting to each other. She is sent with troops to interrogate a man suspected of building bombs for use against the Americans. After a shaky start, and one that is unnerving, she discovers that in addition to people being merciless to one another, nature can also be harsh against people regardless of their politics. For a short film, this first day for the woman in Afghanistan involves some strong drama. I will be impressed if our novice translator comes back for Day Two.
Rating: A

"Everything Will Be Okay" ("Alles Wird Gut")
Directors: Patrick Vollrath
Country of origin: Germany, Austria
Running Time: 30 minutes
Language: German

Patrick Vollrath directs a nice exercise in suspense. Michael is a divorced father who has visitation rights with his young daughter Lea. He picks her up and seems particularly generous to her this day. But soon he seems to be acting strangely. Lea questions him and gets no useful answers. Michael's plans will pit Lea against her father. Many American filmmakers would exaggerate the film and that really is not necessary. In a nice compact 30 minutes this film is more than a match for a feature-length suspense film.
Rating: A

"Shok"
Directors: Jamie Donoughue
Country of origin: United Kingdom, Kosovo
Running Time: 21 minutes
Language: Albanian, Serbian

In a story told in flashback we meet two boys, Oki and Era, in Kosovo. The boys are close friends, who want to try their hands at being businessmen. But as the war comes home to their village they find that just staying alive may be all they can manage. Their relationship has a little bit of betrayal and a lot of danger from the gunmen infesting their village. The ending of the film is not all smoothed off like a fiction story, but it does show us the texture of life during wartime.
Rating: B

"Stutterer"
Directors: Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 12 minutes
Language: English

In a tale with an O Henry irony we meet Greenwood who can write beautifully, but who has a very bad stammer. In social media on the Internet he has the writing voice of a poet, but if he stands in front of a live person he can barely get his words out. For several months he has had a verbal relationship with a woman on Facebook, but he is certain that when she meets him in the flesh all his fine words will abandon him and he will be able to get out only fractions of words. His one chance with his on-line correspondent is to meet his friend and hope against hope that he will find a way to talk to her.
Rating: C

ANIMATED SHORT FILM NOMINEES

"Bear Story"
Directors: Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Country of origin: Chile
Running time: 11 minutes
Language: No Dialog

The main character in this film looks he is a tin toy against a music box interior that forms a setting. The background music also seems to have a music box feel. The story is of a bear who is kidnapped by a circus and made to perform. All is shown with a clockwork background decorated with circus posters. The film is Chilean and was made undoubtedly as a political statement against Pinochet and his political machine. It is a work of genuine ingenuity and has something to say.
Rating: B

"Prologue"
Directors': Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Running time: 6 minutes
Language: No Dialog

Presented wordlessly in pencil drawing art we see first images of a flower and a bee, then shift to a small battle--two warriors against two warriors--from around 400 BC. The battle is violent and all four die, but a young girl who watched the battle runs to her mother or grandmother for comfort. Some may find that even animated blood is over-used. Presumably it is saying that fighting is bad, but fighting today is very different from what it was 24 centuries ago. It is unclear what the flower has to do with anything. The film does not seem to tell a story and probably really needs one.
Rating: C

"Sanjay's Super Team"
Directors: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
Country of origin: United States
Running time: 7 minutes
Language: English

From Disney and Pixar comes a story of the generation gap between the Indian-born and the Western-born Indian-Americans. Sanjay's father is a devout Hindu who performs the Hindu devotions in the home. His son Sanjay on the other hand is very much a product of American culture. He does not want to go through the ceremonies. He wants to be left alone to see super-heroes on television and in his action-hero toys. Neither has much interest in the other's fascinations. Then Sanjay has a vision that makes things clear for himself and his father and the two are reconciled. This could be a better story with a more satisfying conclusion. The solution really would probably work for neither Sanjay nor his father.
Rating: B

"We Can't Live Without Cosmos"
Directors: Konstantin Bronzit
Country of origin: Russia
Running time: 16 minutes
Language: No Dialog

In the days of the old Soviet space program two cosmonauts in training become very close friends, preparing for space together and getting into mischief whenever they can. Both yearn for the stars and are inspired by the same book, "We Can't Live Without The Cosmos". A flight comes up and only one can go on it. The animation is low-tech, but the story is poignant. The images are fairly two-dimensional, but the narrative is touching.
Rating: A

"World of Tomorrow"
Directors: Don Hertzfeldt
Country of origin: United States
Running time: 17 minutes
Language: English

"World Of Tomorrow" is a full science fiction story animated with line drawings. A little girl, Emily, meets and is taken on a time traveling trip by her own granddaughter looks aged enough to instead be her grandmother. Most of the art is or appears to be just line drawings. Emily visits her own future. She is told, though she is much too young to understand, that she will have her mind and personality downloaded into a clone. This process will be repeated indefinitely giving her virtually eternal life. And that is just the start of what Emily's grandmother reveals to her. One after another Emily hears about the technological wonders of her future--marvels but of dubious value.
Rating: A

[-mrl]


The Pants Zipper Crisis (letter of comment by Barry Litofsky):

In response to Mark's comments on pants zippers in the 01/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Barry Litofsky writes:

And here I thought it was me getting older and not being able to "handle" myself well. I live in Florida now and always wear shorts, which means that I don't have to use pants' zippers. Last weekend I went north for a family function and had to wear long pants, both on the airplane flights and at the function. I received a rude awakening each time I went to the bathroom. I didn't remember having zipper difficulty before. So I agree with your comments and believe it to be false economy to make pants' zippers shorter. I could say that I will no longer purchase long pants, but it would not be truthful as it is difficult to go to snow country in the winter in shorts! [-bl]

Mark responds:

It seems to me I recently heard a story of a 21-year-old woman in Wisconsin who got hypothermia and froze to death after wearing shorts in very cold weather. I guess there are worse things than having to make special arrangements in front of a urinal.

http://tinyurl.com/mtv-shorts

[-mrl]


Tabby's Star and THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):

In response to Mark's comments on Tabby's star in the 01/22/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

My brother suggested the Allen Array listen to Tabby's star & they found nothing. Jim's just sent ASTRO JOURNAL a paper saying that industrial solar system use of powerful microwave beams could have been detected--but you have to listen constantly, not just the few hours the Allen Array did.

And he adds:

Yes, THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD is a fine small film, mostly unknown, alas... [-gb]


This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Well, I hunkered down for the blizzard with four books from the library.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: WRITINGS FROM THE PAMPHLET DEBATE, 1764- 1772 edited by Gordon S. Wood (ISBN 978-1-598533774) is published by the non-profit publisher Library of America(*). Their books are very well-produced (acid-free paper, sewn bindings, silk bookmark, etc.), but one suspects that their primary market is institutional (libraries, colleges, etc.), because a cover price seems a bit high to the average book-buyer. Obviously, one is paying not only for the physical book, but for the historical and editorial knowledge required to assemble this volume. (This is similar to anthologies of older stories: they are often individually readily available elsewhere, but you are paying for the editor to select and collect them.) And also, as it turns out, these works are apparently not available on-line. (Not even the Constitution Society's Liberty Library of Constitutional Classics, at http://www.constitution.org/liberlib.htm has them.)

(*) The Guardians of American Letters Fund was established by the Library of America to ensure that all volumes remain "permanently available." One suspects this is recognizing that they may not remain "in print" so much as available digitally.

It is depressing to read the beautifully constructed sentences of these pamphlets and then to consider the present level of political discourse. For example, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Present Disputes Between the British Colonies in America and the Mother-Country" (1769) [author anonymous] begins:

"The disputes at present subsisting between our Colonies in America and their Mother Country, are as weighty and important in their nature, as they are alarming and formidable in their effects, and of so long standing, that every true friend to either cannot help ardently wishing they were amicably adjusted and fairly determined. If the following remarks upon this subject, wherein I shall endeavour to place it in a new, and, I presume a clear point of view, will any way contribute to this end, it will give me real pleasure; although to conceive the most distant expectations of success from any thing that can be said upon it, will perhaps be a much stronger argument of my benevolence and good wishes, than of my prudence or sagacity."

Somehow the sound bites of the current candidates do not compare. (Never mind trying to get an actual position paper longer than a single page from them.)

I'll note in passing, by the way, that the problems the author of this pamphlet sees in extending all rights and privileges of a mother-country to its colonies seem to be those of time and space. In the Roman Empire, it was impractical to have meaningful representation in the Roman Senate from (say) Gaul, which was about 800 miles away--a journey of about 28 days. Now we have representation from Hawai'i in the Senate in Washington, even though Hawai'i is almost 5000 miles away, because the journey takes only 14 or 15 hours (with a stopover, no less!). (And direct communication via telephone or computer is effectively instantaneous, making it possible for a Senator in Hawai'i to be in some sense closer to the Senate than a Senator in ancient Rome who was a mile away from the Senate building.) One must re-examine the justification of colonies today under the modern conditions of communication.

The author of this pamphlet also says that there must be a supreme assembly and all other assemblies be subordinate to it. The notion that some powers are reserved for assemblies other than the "supreme" one did not occur to him, yet that is to a great extent what we have in the United States. (One can debate whether a given "central" law encroaches on these reserved powers, but clearly the concept is present and quite active.)

He also assumes that were the North American colonies set free from England, they would "fall prey" to France. In addition to being just flat-out wrong, he makes a telling comparison: now, he says, the colonists are treated as children, but under the French they would be treated as slaves. Indeed, he frequently compares the colonists to children, and while the term "Mother-Country" encourages that language, it is hardly likely to placate the colonists toward retaining their current relationship with England.

This volume has nineteen pamphlets and is volume one of a two- volume set; volume two covers 1773 through 1776 and has twenty pamphlets.

SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq (translated by Lorin Stein) (ISBN 978-0-374-27157-2) is one of those "mainstream science fiction" novels that most science fiction readers will never hear about. It does not help that it is a foreign novel, written in French and requiring a translator. Reading it, I gained a new appreciation for Ken Liu's translation skills, not just in which words to choose, but in what to footnote. A lot of SUBMISSION is lost if the reader does not have a knowledge of French politics and French politicians. For example, Houellebecq makes a passing reference to the "Thirty Glorious Years." Liu would have footnoted this, but Stein leaves it to the reader to go and look it up in Wikipedia, breaking the train of reading.

Taking place in 2022, the novel tells the story of the meteoric rise of an Islamic political party in France which gains control by aligning itself with what I presume are real current political parties in France. In practically no time (a month, so far as I can tell), they have Islamicized the education system, over-hauled employment and marriage law, and gotten several North African countries added to the EU. Okay, it's a satire (though I think THE NEW YORKER'S Adam Gopnik went too far when he called it "a comic masterpiece"), but even so, I found that my disbelief could not be willingly suspended to that extent.

LUNA: NEW MOON by Ian McDonald (ISBN 978-0-7653-7551-3) came highly recommended (I would not be surprised to see it on this year's Hugo ballot, assuming it is a valid Hugo ballot) but it had a five-page listing of the cast of characters, a three-page glossary explaining (among other things) the hierarchical and relationship terms used in the five-page listing of the cast of characters, and a two-page enumeration of the days of the month on the Hawai'ian calendar. I'm old, life is short, and a random sampling of pages confirmed my idea that this would be difficult to follow, so the book went back unread.

GALAPAGOS REGAINED by James Morrow (ISBN 978-1-250-05401-2) remains as the last book. This is another one I did not finish. Although obviously an author has to take some liberties with history, when one finds what appear to be egregious errors, rather than intentional changes, one's suspension of disbelief becomes less willing. The Great God Contest was a wonderful idea, but calling Charles Darwin a geologist, and saying that he was the (official) naturalist on the Beagle is just too jarring. In addition, the whole book seems highly melodramatic (possibly intentionally so) and reminiscent of Charles Dickens. (I can't say "Dickensian"-- that refers to the conditions Dickens wrote about. Dickensonian, maybe?) And finally, Morrow used to write nice, compact books that conveyed his ideas economically. I realize there is a trend towards longer novels now, but I do not have to like it. At 496 pages this was just a bit too long. [-ecl]


                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net
Quote of the Week:
          I have been commissioned to write an autobiography 
          and I would be grateful to any of your readers who 
          could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.
                                 --Jeffrey Bernard
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