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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/05/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 32, Whole Number 1896
Table of Contents
The new book by Ian McDonald I reviewed last week was LUNA: NEW MOON, not LUNA: FIRST MOON. [-ecl]
Health Resort (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
The Mars Rover Opportunity started working on Mars in January 2005. It was expected to live out its projected life span of about 90 days. It has been going for eleven years. It must have a battery bunny that keeps it going and going and going. Actually, what it seems to be proving is that Mars is Shangri-La but only for machinery. [-mrl]
Mini-Reviews of Films of the Year (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
I have one last set of quick film reviews of films I saw last November and December. As usual it took a while to see it, but last year was probably an above average year for movies. Happy watching. Next week I will be back to my usual style of column.
This is the sort of socially conscious film of protest that Douglas Sirk would have made in the 1950s. And indeed the film is set in 1952, very authentically recreated. Like Sirk's stories this film is about two people falling in love with each other in the midst of a disapproving society. The story progresses slowly and it is a while before they can talk personally about each other. The audience is hoping they will get together, but the relationship goes against the social mores of the time. Their relationship takes a long time to blossom into a sexual relationship, but there is an electricity from the beginning. But each is in a relationship with a man, and the two men want to break up this bond. The two go on a road trip in large part to get away from the interfering men in their lives. Todd Haynes directs a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia Highsmith. It is much the same sort of story that Haynes' FAR FROM HEAVEN was. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. THE LITTLE DEATH This is a comedy about five couples in the suburbs of Sydney Australia and their various fetishes and sexual kinks. Some are incompatible or cause specialized problems all by themselves. All of this is pleasantly amusing until we get to the final chapter. Then it is hilarious. A deaf man wants to call a sex-line in spite of his limitations. The result is the funniest sequence I have seen in a comedy since the original DEATH AT A FUNERAL. The film does not really hang together and it is very likely that the original intention was to do that sequence and to then just put filler around it. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
Little known was the fact that Marlon Brando kept detailed journals of his thoughts on audiotape. They don't offer a whole lot of new information about Brando, but they are a good excuse for a biography of him with the tapes at least adding some detail not generally known to the story of Brando's career. The organization of what information they are giving could be a little more obvious, but it all makes for an enjoyable retrospective of Brando's films. Curiously though, Brando is critical of others for the failure of films like MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and CANDY there is no mention whatsoever of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU. Brando claims CANDY is the worst film he ever made, making us wonder what he thought of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU. Rating: low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Bobbie and Jude are human parasites. They are both drug users and they steal to pay for their habit. Anything they see that is not nailed down is unsafe around them. At their most ambitious they pull off small confidence games. More generally they play prostitute and pimp. I say "play", since we never see Bobbie get to the sex part. She knows when to grab what she can and run off with it. This lifestyle cannot go on forever and the dysfunctional relationship they have with each other is coming to an end as it runs out of energy. Even now each's top priority is getting drugs and each other comes second. Their story is modestly compelling but not very rewarding. Collin Schiffli directs a script by Davis Dastmalchian who plays Jude. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE
In 2013 Joshua Michael Stern directed JOBS, which told the story of Steve Jobs, co-founder and chairman of Apple. He quit college and instead founded and developed the corporate philosophy for Apple. This year we got Danny Boyle's film on the life of Jobs, STEVE JOBS. It had artistic pretensions, but it did not cover that material as well as the earlier film did. For a third biopic on the subject, this year we also have a documentary that covers the same territory and is very much the film the other two should have been. Because it uses documentary style it tells far more of interest than the two narrative films. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
THE BLACKLIST (Season One) (television review by Dale Skran):
I just finished binge-watching season one of THE BLACKLIST. I recently got hooked on season three, which is currently running, and decided to go back and catch up. This review contains a lot of spoilerish material, so if you want to fully enjoy the show, I suggest you stop reading right now and start watching. Fans of THE MENTALIST, ALIAS, and THE USUAL SUSPECTS will find a lot to like here, although the horror tropes and strong violence may put off some. I'm not rating THE BLACKLIST, but it has gotten a lot of critical attention, and star James Spader does a fantastic job in bringing to life Raymond Reddington ("Red"), the "Concierge of Crime" who has turned himself over to the FBI in return for complete immunity as long as he assists the FBI in capturing a vast array of super-criminals on "The Blacklist." Be aware that THE BLACKLIST is a story told in shades of gray, and you can never tell who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Sometimes the characters may not even know themselves what side they are on!
SPOILERS START HERE
THE BLACKLIST combines elements from a wide range of spy/thriller TV shows and movies, which I have listed below:
In many ways THE BLACKLIST resembles a good comic book, with our heroes each week taking on a new super-villain. Here are some of them:
At this point you have a pretty good idea what THE BLACKLIST is like. Some episodes like "The Stewmaker" are more horror than spy stories and at one point Lizzy breaks her husband's thumb with pliers while interrogating him. There may be too much violence here for some, but it is certainly well motivated. If you like an intriguing conspiracy story with engaging characters, you'll probably like THE BLACKLIST. [-dls]
CENTRAL STATION by Lavie Tidhar (copyright 2016, Tachyon Publications, $15.95, 288pp, ISBN 9781616962142) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Lavie Tidhar's CENTRAL STATION is, by his own words, a "story cycle/mosaic novel". Tidhar lists fourteen stories on his website that are part of the Central Station cycle, thirteen of which, plus a prologue, made it into the novel. I had not read any of these stories before I read the novel, and as the Extended Copyright section of the novel indicates that "Substantively different versions of the individual chapters of CENTRAL STATION (my caps, the text is italicized) were previously published...", I cannot say how different the chapters are from the original stories.
Creating novels from individual shorter works is nothing new in the SF field; it's been around for decades. Call them fix-ups, mash- ups, or whatever--it's a grand tradition. The original "Foundation Trilogy", DUNE, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS are all made up of shorter pieces; those are the ones that come to mind first. There are many more, and I'm sure I've read a lot of them although I probably didn't know it at the time and may still not know it now. Some are good, some are not so good; that's the way these things go. CENTRAL STATION falls into the category of the good ones.
The titular construct resides in the city of Tel Aviv. It is the debarkation point for humanity to a better life. The world has been ravaged by war and poverty, and a vast majority of the residents of Earth have left the planet. CENTRAL STATION doesn't tell us whether Central Station is the lone departure point for humanity; we must presume it isn't, for trying to get hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people off the planet surely must be an undertaking that involves multiple locations. Central Station is, however the backdrop for a series of tales about the people who live there, the society and culture that has evolved and, in a couple of cases, the people that have come back.
The story begins with the return to Earth of Boris Chong, who before he left for Mars was a doctor in the birthing clinics of Tel Aviv. He returns to a boy, named Kranki, who has waited for him every day, a boy who thinks Boris is his father. The boy's mother, Mama Jones--Miriam--is Boris' former lover who is raising Kranki as if he were her own. Kranki waits for Boris--not knowing him by that name--every day, until one day he does indeed return.
He returns to a world that is very strange. Indeed, it is a bit strange to try to describe. There is something of a stream of consciousness called the Conversation. Everyone has implanted, at birth, a node that allows them to tap into the Conversation. Think of it as social media that you can't get away from, and apparently you don't want to. A person is considered damaged if he can't tap into the Conversation. Miriam's brother Achimwene is one such person. We'll talk more about him later. Alien beings called The Others are connected to humanity via the Conversation, and Boris himself has an alien parasite attached to him from his time on Mars. There are constructs called robotniks, cyborg soldiers left over from wars so long ago that they don't remember what the wars were about or who they were fighting. They scrounge for parts to stay alive and functioning. We meet a few of these, including one who is romantically involved with Boris' cousin Isobel, and R. Brother Patch-It, a robot priest.
What Boris doesn't know is that a data vampire with whom he was briefly involved, Carmel, has followed him back to Earth. Data vampires were made the way they are by the Nosferatu Code, which was supposed to be a weapon for war but got out of control. Carmel--a strigoi--is hunted, as all data vampires are hunted. She somehow makes it through security at Central Station--and looks for Boris. She meets the aforementioned Achimwene and they form a relationship; he is immune to her data needs as he is not plugged into the Conversation.
We also meet Weiwei Zhong, the founder of the Chong dynasty and the grandfather of Boris. His visit to an Oracle resulted in a shared group memory among all his descendants, including Boris' father, Vladimir. And then there are the children, those who came out of the birthing clinics and are more than a little bit different than normal children. They also seem to have a mysterious relationship with Carmel.
As you might be able to gather, there is a lot going on here. And yet, this novel does not have a traditional structure, with plot, conflict, climax, and resolution. We already know that it is a mosaic novel, but it is also a mosaic of characters. All these different characters that I've written about here, and several more that I haven't mentioned, each contribute in their own way to the mosaic of the novel. The original stories and characters were written separately, but Tidhar has done a masterful job of melding everything together into a story of a group of people from a place and a future that doesn't have to be too far from our own. While the story starts out a bit slow (its only fault), it doesn't take long to pick up steam, making the reader want to turn the pages and keep reading until the end.
And yet, like the story of humanity, the story of Central Station is far from finished. There are more than a few threads left hanging out there, and I look forward to Tidhar writing more Central Station stories. Even if he doesn't, he's left us with a fine set of stories--and a novel--that can be read multiple times, with the reader discovering new things each time. And that's the way every story should be. [-jak]
Impressment (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
In response to Mark's comments on mutinies in the 01/29/16 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph T. Major writes:
Dudley Pole, the British naval historian and novelist, discusses the impressment situation in his Life in Nelson's Navy. The Royal Navy had the right to conscript--"impress"--British sailors from any ship. There were British sailors serving on American ships. American sailors would carry a document called a "protection" that indicated that they were not liable to impressment. However, the protection documents were vague, particularly in the description of the bearer, and American sailors would get extra protections and sell them to British sailors of similar appearance.
As a result, Royal Navy officers were suspicious of protections and would impress men who "sounded British". They were wrong a lot of the time. [-jtm]
I hate to sound like INHERIT THE WIND, but the Royal Navy was allowed by law to conscript British sailors from any ship. Whether they actually had the right to do so was a moot point. It sounds like they stretched that allowance beyond what the law allowed. [-mrl]
Lights (letters of comment by Leland R. Beaumont, Paul Dormer, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Evelyn's comments on outdoor lights in the 01/29/16 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:
I was encouraged by your article "Light Is the Left Hand of Darkness and Darkness the Right Hand of Light".
When I was a young teenager I wanted to play a mischievous practical joke on the family that lived across the street. They had just installed many floodlights on their house to increase security. This was unprecedented at the time, and I thought it was excessive.
The lights were controlled by a sensor that turned them on at night. One night I took a mirror and snuck into their side yard. I used the mirror to reflect the light from the floodlight back toward the sensor.
My hope was to create a feedback loop and cause all the lights to pulse on and off. It did not work, and I'm not sure exactly why. One hypothesis is that the sensor is directed skyward, the other is that the reflected light was too dim to activate the sensor.
I'm glad the problem has finally been solved. [-lrb]
Paul Dormer writes:
Curious. The light-sensitive (dark-sensitive?) light bulbs we get over here claim not to be sensitive to artificial light. And, indeed, my porch light is next to the porch window so the hall light shines on it all the time I have that switched on (which is most of the evening when I am at home) and it never goes off.
Annoyingly, the make of bulb I had been using for the last twenty years or so seems no longer to be available and the sensitivity of the bulbs I have found when I replaced it just before Christmas are such that they have a habit of coming on during the middle of the day. My porch is north-facing, so it doesn't get much direct sunlight, most of the last month sunrise has been around eight a.m., and the weather has been murky a lot of the time. [-pd]
Keith F. Lynch replies:
How is that possible? It does go off when there's the same amount of natural light?
In the US, the government banned standard incandescent bulbs. I had the foresight to stock up with a lifetime supply, as I really dislike fluorescent light, since it flickers and since it has spikes and holes in its spectrum.
[Coming on in the middle of the day] sounds like a problem with the photocell in the fixture, not with the bulb itself. Maybe the photocell just needs cleaning. [-kfl]
A long discussion of light bulbs followed in rec.arts.sf.fandom; it can be found at http://tinyurl.com/void-v34n31. [-ecl]
I too hate fluorescent bulbs which I consider to be bad technologically. They are more expensive than incandescent and they fall well short of their claimed long lifespan. So far I am impressed by LED lights and I will gladly see my incandescent bulbs replaced by LEDs. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE PIG THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN: 100 EXPERIMENTS FOR THE ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHER by Julian Baggini (ISBN 978-0-452-28744-0) is a fun book, but misnamed. Of the first ten "experiments" (thought experiments, really), one is a math problem, two are marginally philosophical, and only seven are what I would label philosophical conundrums.
Not surprisingly, many are familiar. For example, is the person who comes out of the transporter on Deneb IV the same person who went in on Rigel III? Or, if one continually repairs a wooden boat by replacing boards, at what point does it cease to be the original boat? For example, replacing one board out of a hundred would not seem to make it a "different" boat. (If it did, the replacement of molecules in our bodies would mean we would be continually becoming a different body.) Or, is a deed good because God commands it is, or does God command it because it is good? (If the latter, then apparently God is not necessary for morality.)
One might consider this as the philosopher's version of a devotional, but instead of a Bible verse each day, one can contemplate a philosophical question. (I suppose technically it should have 365 problems rather than 100.)
(One of my favorite philosophical conundrums is "the problem of induction." In science, and in general, we assume the future will be like the past (a "uniformity of nature"). Not in economics, of course, where "past results are no guarantee of future performance," but we assume that gravity will work the same tomorrow as it did yesterday, that tomorrow the second half of this candy bar will taste pretty much the same as the first half did yesterday, and so on. But why do we believe this? Because up until now, the future has always been like the past. Think about it.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org 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 BernardTweet
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