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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 06/17/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 50, Whole Number 1915
Table of Contents
Bent (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Some people I know like to reflect on their past. Personally, I prefer to refract. [-mrl]
Radium Age Sci-Fi: 100 Best (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
People interested in the very early days of science fiction may find interesting this list of the one hundred best science fiction novels of 1904 to 1933 with copious illustrations. It is at http://hilobrow.com/radium-age-100/. There is similar coverage of other intervals of time if you explore the web site. [-mrl]
Differences of Opinion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You are in New Orleans and you go into a jazz club. At most of the tables people are having a pleasant time. Over in the corner are three jazz musicians and they are just transfixed by what they are hearing. They know they are hearing something really special. A man in another corner is bored. In fact there may be many different opinions in the room about just what people are hearing.
My brother-in-law, Ron, is a sports writer and commenter on the general business of life, all for a reading community in Western Massachusetts. I review films from central New Jersey and consider myself a film buff. I don't write about sports; he usually does not write about film. A recent column of his ( http://tinyurl.com/mtv-critics) echoes a complaint I have heard often before from other film fans.
He had seen the film THE INTERN (2015) and he apparently enjoyed it a great deal. He went to a movie review site and found there that it got middling reviews from the critics. I saw the film, and I did enjoy it. Ron's reaction was that the critics were influencing each other and that was driving down the ratings of THE INTERN. They were spending too much effort analyzing the movie when they should have just sat back and enjoyed it.
Actually, I have frequently been told that I should not analyze a film. Instead I should let it just totally wash over me and immerse myself in it. That is not the way I see a movie (or read a book or eat a dish at a new restaurant). I want to be talking about what I am experiencing. That usually does not bother people around me because my talking is touch-typing into a non-illuminated palmtop computer. Reviewing those comments will frequently be useful when I write a review.
In THE INTERN Robert De Niro plays an experienced 70-year-old man who comes to work in a new business run mostly by people in the 20 to 25 year age range. The film is made up of sub-stories all of which come to happy endings due to the presence of the De Niro character. On one hand it is nice to see a lot of people have good things happen to them because of the presence of an older person. Being an older person myself I appreciate that for the same reason Ron does. At the same time I felt we were only seeing happy stories. Life is not like that and that will bother some people and not others. The film would have been more realistic if one or two of the stories did not contribute happy endings.
Incidentally Ron says, "In this stressful world, just about all films should have happy endings." Realizing that it may prejudice my case, I feel the opposite. I remember great hard-hitting classic films like THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, and especially A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS that were not afraid to have realistic but downbeat endings. These days unless a film has the candy of a happy ending it has a much harder job of getting financing.
I do not remember for sure, but I do not think I read any reviews of THE INTERN. One reason for that is that I saw the film with no intention of reviewing it. If I had planned on reviewing the film I possibly might have wanted to read a review or two. That might have called my attention to some facet of the film that I might not have noticed. Critics tell us that such-and-such an actor is really good in a particular scene. Maybe another would point out that the period feel of a film is extremely well portrayed. Perhaps the film has a particularly intricate tracking shot that was all shot on one take.
The critic might have told me to also look for certain holes in the plotline. For me, knowing a little of what to look for improves the watching experience. I might notice aspects of the film I would have missed otherwise. When I write the review then I might point the same aspects out. That may be why critics appear to be monolithic. Ron suggests that movie reviewers spend too much time with movie reviewers just as sports writers spend too much time with sportswriters. To be honest I have no idea where to go to spend time with other film reviewers. When sports writers cover a game they all come to the same place, the location were the game is played. There the same people can get together and share the same opinions.
That is not so much true of movies. A new movie can play on a hundred different screens. Or if the reviewer gets sent a screener disk the reviewer will not even leave home to see the film. In a large city like Manhattan or Los Angeles a reviewer can go to a screening and see other reviewers but I doubt if many people review that way. So I am skeptical of claims of critics getting together and having conspiracies to all like or dislike a film. It may be with the Internet one could be influenced by other critics' opinions. The idea that critics got together and decided to all dislike THE INTERN strikes me as an unlikely conspiracy theory.
My recommendation for Ron is not to trust "the critics" but to find two or three critics he tends to agree with. I actually look for critics who disagree with me because it is much harder to learn from someone who agrees with me. [-mrl]
ARCHIVIST WASP by Nicole Kornher-Stace (book review by Dale Skran):
While trawling the Internet for Hugo nominations to considered, I noted a number of recommendations for a young adult novel by Nicole Kornher-Stace titled ARCHIVIST WASP. Some compared it to Buffy, and there are echoes of Buffy here, but Archivist Wasp is an entirely new creation. She is "the chosen one"--selected from female candidates who for four hundred years have fought to the death using knives for the privilege of being "Archivist Wasp." This mostly means she gets to live alone and hunt ghosts for a few short years until she is killed by a rising candidate in the annual trials. And she has a "watcher" (the Catchkeep-priest) who is mainly a master to her slave.
This novel defies easy explanation. On the level I have just described, it seems like a "Buffy" imitation. However, it more resembles Jack Vance's DYING EARTH series with a sense of fallen glory and the characters scrabbling amongst the bones of a civilization once great but now beyond understanding. What are the ghosts? This is never laid out clearly, but one guess is some remnant of personalities uploaded into computers long ago. Archivist Wasp has endured three years of ghost hunting, and just barely survived her third round of challenges. Now a ghost appears who wishes to hire her for job--to find another ghost, long vanished.
Thus begins a hero's journey as Archivist Wasp enters an underground labyrinth--or is she uploaded into a computer? On this path Wasp will gain some understanding of how far the world has fallen, but only a little. One of the strengths of ARCHIVST WASP is that the book sticks strictly to her point of view, so the reader has to work to fill in the details of the background. Eventually she finds the missing ghost, and returns to her village, only to discover that many months have passed. Now far wiser, she leads the candidates in a rebellion against the cruel Catchkeep-priest and overturns the system that created her. Finally she is free to chart her own future, which might eventually include joining the "ghosts."
ARCHIVST WASP is suitable for tweens and up. I thought it a pretty good young adult novel, with lots for the adults to enjoy and nothing that should offend most people. The knife fights are fairly graphic. This book is probably too complicated for younger readers to follow but if a kid wanted to read it I wouldn't hold them back. [-dls]
Natures and Dimensions (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to Mark's comments on natures in the 06/10/16 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
[Mark wrote,] "As I thought, people disagree on what first nature is. We only really agree on 'second nature.' But then being cynical is third or fourth nature to me."
Not unusual. Most people exposed to popular expositions of relativity can state that time is the fourth dimension, but which is the third? Length, width, and depth do not have a conventional ordering, though the alphabet provides one for x, y, and z axes. And where in the ordering does breadth appear? Interestingly [to me] enough, the prologue to "As Time Goes By" mentions "fourth dimension" and "Mr. Einstein's theory". Except for Rod Stewart's version which for some reason says "third dimension" (Willie Nelson gets it right). [-no]
People say time is "the" fourth dimension. "The" implies there is a natural ordering of dimensions that does not really exist. The only ordering on dimensions is that the first three are easily visualized. The only requirement on the first three is that no two coincide. They do not really have to be perpendicular though they are usually portrayed that way. Now it is thought that there may or may not be eleven dimensions in which case there would be four perceivable dimensions and seven that are not perceivable. But there is no obvious natural order to the dimensions outside of a given contest. It is like someone saying "I can think of six of the Magnificent Seven but cannot remember the seventh." His seventh might be my third. [-mrl]
Science Fiction, Legitimacy, and Fake Movies (letter of comment by Steve Coltrin):
In response to Mark's comments on the film ARGO in the 6/10/16 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Coltrin writes:
I can't be the only person who would, if possible, buy a ticket to the fake movie presented in that movie. [-sc]
It would not be unprecedented--just consider the films MACHETE and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, both of which started life as fake trailers in GRINDHOUSE. (MACHETE has since also had a sequel, MACHETE KILLS.) [-ecl]
Samuel Pepys and Calendars (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the English calendar in the 06/03/16 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes (on Facebook):
Just read the bit about Pepys in the recent MT VOID. IIRC, back before Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the new year began on Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, not 1 March (which is the feast of St David, patron of Wales). Scotland had adopted 1 January as the beginning of the year long before England did. [-sl]
This seems to be correct--I'm not sure where I got the notion it was 1 March (unless I read that the new year started in March and assumed it would start on the first day, because why would anyone start a new year in the middle of the month?). In any case, I also find the note on http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1660/01/01/> In any case, there is still plenty of room for confusion on stand-alone documents dated 1 January through 24 March. [-ecl]
THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 3) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Comments on Society:
Even if one cannot follow everyone and everything Pepys writes about, one gets a definite feel for some the differences between then and now. Death was clearly more frequent, if Pepys can write, "[It] is observable that within this month my Aunt Wight was brought to bed of two girls, my cozen Stradwick of a girl and a boy, and my cozen Scott of a boy, and all died." [In context, I *think* "all" here applies only to the infants and not to all the mothers as well.) [September 13, 1660]
And there were no building codes: "[Going] down into my cellar to look I stepped into a great heap of s**t by which I found that Mr. Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar." [October 20, 1660]
Manners were different: ""I went to [the theatre] and here I sitting in a dark place, a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all." [January 28, 1661]
As for law and order: "[I] in Cheapside hear that the Spanish hath got the best of it, and killed three of the French coach-horses and several men, and is gone through the City next to our King's coach; at which it is strange to see how all the City did rejoice. And indeed we do naturally all love the Spanish, and hate the French." [September 30, 1661]
Evidently physical abuse of servants was acceptable: "This morning, observing some things to be laid up not as they should be by the girl, I took a broom and basted her till she cried extremely, which made me vexed, but before I went out I left her appeased." (One wonders how?!) [December 1, 1660]
"I reckoned all his faults, and whipped him soundly, but the rods were so small that I fear they did not much hurt to him, but only to my arm, which I am already, within a quarter of an hour, not able to stir almost." [February 28, 1662] Well, he's mot getting much sympathy from me. Later he writes, "I called him up, and with my whip did whip him till I was able to stir, and yet I could not make him confess any of the lies they tax him with." [June 21, 1662] Coincidentally, I am listening to a Teaching Company course about Abraham Lincoln and the professor talks about how it was difficult for the Lincolns to keep servants in their Springfield house because Mary Todd Lincoln was very imperious and persisted in treating them as she had the slaves in her father's house. Obviously servants achieved some improvement between 1662 and the 1850s (unless it was a localized phenomenon).
And his attitude toward the female servants is also outrageous: "... I was sorry to hear that Sir W. Pen's maid Betty was gone away yesterday, for I was in hopes to have a bout with her before she had hone, she being very pretty. I also had a mind to my own wench, but I dare not for fear she should prove honest and refuse and then tell my wife." [August 1, 1662] I know he was writing in shorthand, but it was not in code, so this was obviously not something he was overly concerned people would find out about (unlike the coded passages). On the other hand, maybe it just means he had no idea how easy it would be for people to read it. In any case, there will be much more of this sort of thing, which I will discuss in a separate section.
One wonders if Presbyterians are still as long-winded: "We got places and staid [sic] to hear a sermon; but, it being a Presbyterian one, it was so long, that after above an hour of it we went away..." [April 2, 1662]
As proof that we live in a different world, compare our cities with this: "I was much troubled to-date to see a dead man lie floating upon the waters, and had done (they say) these four days, and nobody takes him up to bury him, which is very barbarous." [April 4, 1662] And Pepys's concern seems entirely regarding the decent burial of the corpse, with no mention (or even notion) that having a dead body floating in the river is unsanitary or likely to spread disease.
At times, he hits the nail on the head: "... though I am much against too much spending, yet I do think it best to enjoy some degree of pleasure now that we have health, money, and opportunity, rather than to leave pleasures to old age or poverty, when we cannot have them so properly." [May 20, 1662]
One learns (or deduces/guesses) all sorts of things from diaries. For example, Pepys writes of an auction, "where pleasant to see how backward men are at first to bid; and yet when the candle is going out, how they bawl and dispute afterwards who bid the most first." [September 3, 1662] It sounds as though auctions did not have an auctioneer as we know one, but rather bidding started when a candle was lit and ended when it went out and whoever bid the most won. One pictures it as fairly chaotic, with multiple people calling out bids simultaneously near the end and then arguing about who called out the high amount first, with only the other bidders to serve as arbitrators.
Apparently some pickpocket tricks have been around for a long time--this one is still being used: "... a man asked her whether that was the way to the Tower; and while she was answering him, another, on the other side, snatched away her bundle out of her lap, and could not be recovered, but ran away with it..." [January 28, 1663]
"[One] did wish that, among many bad, we could learn two good things of France, which were that we would not think it below the gentleman, or person of honour at a tavern, to bargain for his meat before he eats it; and next, to take no servant without certificate from some friend or gentleman of his good behaviour and abilities." [May 10, 1663] So even then there was a problem of restaurants not telling you the cost of your meal. Nowadays this seems limited to the specials at fancy restaurants, and drinks of all sorts (which rarely have prices shown).
People seemed to eat more then; this was a meal for ten people: "We had a fricasee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble and to my great content." [April 4, 1663]
And speaking of food and entertaining, you know how when you are entertaining you sometimes buy prepared food and try to pass it off as your own? Well, Pepys writes, "[It] being washing-day, we had no meat dressed, but sent to the Cook's, and my people had so little witt to send in our meat in that Cook's dishes, which were marked with the name of the Cook upon them, by which, if they observed anything, they might know it was not my own dinner." [October 6, 1663]
At one point, he sees that his father (who seems to be a bit of a spendthrift) will be getting L50 a year, but tells him he will only be getting L30, but that he [Samuel] will be making up the difference. Apparently this is in the hope that his father will feel guilty and spend less. [May 1, 1663]
"Being weary last night, I slept till almost seven o'clock, a thing I have not done many a day." [May 2, 1663] Generally Pepys seems to have gotten up about 5AM, and in the days before electric lights (or even gas lighting), people measured their days more by the sun than by a clock. (It is not clear to me why we tend to sleep later than sunrise most days.)
People seemed to keep different schedules in many ways back then. Pepys writes, "Waked about one o'clock in the morning... My wife being waked rung her bell, and the mayds rose and went to washing, we to sleep till 7 o'clock..." [October 26, 1663] I know that washing was a full-day job back then, but starting at 1AM? Really? I can only hope that the maids got some time to nap later.
Sometimes Pepys makes an observation that really resonates with feelings we have all had, as when he writes, "I took him to walk up and down behind my cozen Pepys's house that was, which I find comes little short of what I took it to be when I was a little boy, as things use commonly to appear greater than when one comes to be a man and knows more." [July 25, 1663]
[I *know* things were larger when I was younger: I remember five-pound bags of sugar, eight-ounce containers of yogurt, one-pound cans of coffee, and half-gallon containers of ice cream. But I digress.]
At one point Pepys went to a Jewish synagogue, but his reaction was not exactly favorable: "But Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. [October 14, 1663] The only consolation is thinking about what his reaction would be to a Pentecostal Service.
I don't know if Pepys was just gullible or what, but he reports, "Among other things, he and the other Captains that were with us tell me that negros drowned look white and lose their blackness, which I never heard before." [April 11, 1662] And later he writes, "[In] time of thunder, so many barrels of beer as have a piece of iron laid upon them will not be soured, and the others will." [November 6, 1663]
Pepys goes to the workhouse in New Bridewell and says, "I did with great pleasure see the many pretty works, and the little children employed, every one to do something, which was a very fine sight, and worthy encouragement." [October 5, 1664] Clearly societal attitudes towards child labor have changed a lot in the last 350 years.
We worry about our infrastructure, but 1664 London had the same problem: "...so I faire to go through the darke and dirt over the bridge, and my leg fell in a hole broke on the bridge, but, the constable standing there to keep people from it, I was catched up, otherwise I had broke my leg." [October 26, 1664] Now, of course, we might have a warning sign, but no one standing there to catch us.
Someone tells Pepys of "a monster born of a hostler's wife at Salisbury, two women children, perfectly joyned at the lower part of their bellies, and every part perfect as two bodies, and only one payre of legs from the middle where they were joined. It was alive 24 hours, and cried and did as all hopefull children do; but being showed too much to people, was killed." [November 11, 1664] (One presumes Pepys means that the constant exhibition of the pair was what killed them, not that they were actively killed. One also presumes that this exhibition was not gratis.)
And bribery (or at any rate, "tipping") was not unknown even outside the government: "then [I] took coach to Hackney Church, where very full, and found much difficulty to get pews, I offering the sexton money, and he could not help me." [April 21, 1667]
On May 27, 1667, Pepys went to what we would think of as a fencing match between a butcher and a waterman. It rapidly degenerated: "But, Lord! to see how in a minute the whole stage was full of watermen to revenge the foul play, and the butchers to defend their fellow, though most blamed him; and there they all fell to it to knocking down and cutting many on each side. It was pleasant to see, but that I stood in the pit, and feared that in the tumult I might get some hurt." This sounds not unlike some sports event today.
Religious fanatics are nothing new to our time; on July 29, 1667, he writes, "[This] day a man, a Quaker, came named through the Hall, only very civilly toed about the privities to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone burning upon his head, did pass through the Hall, crying, "Repent! repent!"
Things we only know of from history books come a bit more alive when we read them in the Diary, as: "So to White Hall, and saw the King and Queen at dinner; and observed (which I never did before), the formality, but it is but a formality, of putting a bit of bread wiped upon each dish into the mouth of every man that brings a dish; but it should be in the sauce." [September 8, 1667] I love his insistence that it is but a formality; one wonders if that was true.
While it was not called origami, the art apparently was already known in England in Pepys's time: "... and there find one laying of my napkins against tomorrow in figures of all sorts, which is mighty pretty; and, it seems, it is his trade, and he gets much money by it." [March 13, 1668] Pepys is so impressed that he apparently hires him again, and finally (on January 22, 1669) writes of "the fellow that come to lay the cloth, and fold the napkins, which I like so well, as that I am resolved to give him 40s. to teach my wife to do it.
Lest you think that place-holders for lines and/or seats are a new phenomenon, on April 2, 1668, Pepys writes that he got to "the Duke of York's playhouse, at a little past twelve, to get a good place in the pit, against the new play, and there setting a poor man to keep my place, I out, and spent an hour at Martin's, my bookseller's, and so back again, where I find the house quite full. But I had my place, ..."
Next week: Samuel Pepys and women. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I found THE COLLECTED STORIES OF BERTRAND RUSSELL (ISBN 978-0-671-21673-3) at the Bryn Mawr book sale. Who knew that Bertrand Russell wrote fiction? And even more, who knew that some of it was science fiction, and some fantasy?
Now, one can say that many of these are no more science fiction than GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, that they are satires, or allegories, or something other than science fiction or fantasy. But "The Psychoanalyst's Nightmare" has the flavor of a Robert Bloch story or a "Twilight Zone" episode, and "The Right Will Prevail" (and others) could be by any number of science fiction authors who write about politics.
Are they great science fiction? No, not really. (They are not all science fiction, but the others are not great fiction either.) In spite of Russell's credentials, his skills at writing fiction are not anything special. It seems as though these could have been written by any number of competent but undistinguished authors of the period. (Or what I think is the period--there are no copyright notices given for the individual pieces.)
There are also a few articles/essays, such as "Reading History As It Is Never Written", which is a long essay about how what most people think they know (or knew) about history is wrong. Having just re-listened to Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, this seemed synchronistic, and Russell did not even mention Richard III, the Covenanters, or Tonypandy.
As I say, this is nothing special, but a few are kind of fun (the previously mentioned "Psychoanalyst's Nightmare", for example). One could do worse, many of them are very short, and you can always skip the ones that do not hold your interest.
THE TIME TRAVELER'S ALMANAC edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (ISBN 978-0*7653-7424-0), is yet another thousand-page (well, 948-page) anthology from the VanderMeers, I did not enjoy this as much as THE WEIRD: A COMPENDIUM OF STRANGE AND DARK STORIES, however. One reason may have to do with an external constraint. I bought THE WEIRD, so I could take my time on it--read a story one day, another the next, another a few days later... This volume I had checked out of the library, so I had to read the six dozen or so stories and articles in three weeks (six, with renewal). Another (minor) complaint is that this contained at least one excerpt of a longer work, while THE WEIRD were all full pieces.
A bigger problem is that THE WEIRD covered a vast range of plots, themes, and styles. THE TIME TRAVELER'S ALMANAC is restricted to one topic, and even with many variations on the topic, after a while there is a certain sameness to the concepts. THE WEIRD covered a wide geographic/cultural range as well, with several stories in translation. THE TIME TRAVELER'S ALMANAC has (so far as my quick scan of the copyright notices could find) only one story in translation.
That said, there were a few stand-outs (for me): Pamela Sargent's "If Ever I Should Leave You", Ellen Klages's "Time Gypsy", Tony Pi's "Come-From-Away".
There are some classics, of course: Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", Connie Willis's "Fire Watch", Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's "Vintage Season", an excerpt from H. G. Wells, "The Time Machine". In one sense they are obligatory in a time travel anthology. In another they are redundant, because most people buying this will not only be familiar with them, but will also already have them (possibly multiple times over).
So I guess it's a qualified recommendation for THE TIME TRAVELER'S ALMANAC. While reading it from the library is (as I noted) less than ideal, I cannot recommend spending $26 for a new paperback copy either. Used, or in an e-book version for half that, perhaps. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap. --Rodney DangerfieldTweet
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