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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/01/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 1, Whole Number 1917
Table of Contents
WEIRD TALES Magazine Available for Download:
Open Culture has information about where you can find full or partial issues of WEIRD TALES available to download at http://tinyurl.com/void-weird-tales.
Memory Foam (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was an early adopter. I had one of the first memory foam pillows. Big mistake. The darn thing keeps shrinking due to Moore's Law. [-mrl]
Commitments and the Unknown (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." John Kennedy said that September 12, 1962 and the Space Race to the moon was on. Seven years later we were there. It seemed fantastically optimistic at the time. But it was possible.
"By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth." That was Barack Obama on April 15, 2010. It is a little hard to take seriously just like the Kennedy quote was. Of course, George W. Bush said "Our ... goal, is to return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond." I do not think it was taken as a serious obligation and Obama's plan does not seem to be being taken as a serious commitment either. Even now there are probably dangers in a flight that we have never thought of. We are even now just finding out what will be the risks during a flight to Mars.
It has been known for only four or five years that extended time in reduced gravity is bad for eyesight. Our eyes have evolved in 1G environments. It turns out that in low-gravity can change the blood flow to the eye's photoreceptors, according to Michael F. Marmor, professor of ophthalmology at the Stanford University. Low gravity leads to detachment of the retina, leakage of fluid under the retina, and it can do damage to the visual cells.
Another recent discovery is that during the space flight cosmic rays will be bombarding the brains of the passengers. These particles can damage the central nervous system and damage the brains' cognition. They can cause inflammation in the brains of the victims.
Mars is roughly 500 times as far away from Earth as the moon is. That will make the flight far more risky. We now know about these two health risks and can possibly find ways to eliminate these threats. But there may be worse threats that we never considered. Had it been too easy to go to Mars after the Moon we could have Ignorantly blinded the astronauts or worse.
The point of observing these problems is not to say how horrible these effects are. Around the world there are vast differences in living conditions and humans have had tens of thousand of years to figure out just what to do to adapt. Given time, we are very good at adaptation. But the point is that these two problems have been recently discovered. If the means to put people on Mars had come ten years ago we might have tried to fly people to Mars before we even knew of these hazards.
In THE MARTIAN Mark Watney faces a bevy of dangers and "sciences the sh*t out of them." And he uses just present-day science and faces predictable threats. But there is no proof that there is present enough science to let him clobber all the problems he would face. In that sense THE MARTIAN is contrived. Watney faces no unpredictable problems. There are problems that Watney has not even thought of. Science is the best possible bag of tricks for countering these problems, but there are bound to be a lot that we just do not know about currently. When we really try to get humans to Mars the predictable problems will be hard to face--there may be predictable problems that are insuperable--but the unpredictable problems may be far more dangerous.
These problems have to be discovered and countered, one at a time. But there is a lot of unknown out there. That is a very important lesson to learn. That is really a lot of what that old 1950s science fiction was all about. In THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT Quatermass sent his rockets into the unknown and was faced by something he could not have expected.
I told a research mathematician that I was interested in fooling around with functional equations. He responded rather disdainfully, "Functional equations is a bag of solved problems." What I learned from THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT that THE MARTIAN got wrong is that space travel is not a bag of solved problems. And what is a very real lesson for our age.
I am not worried so much about the problems we can predict now, nor the ones we will discover before sending people to Mars. But what about the problems about sending people to Mars without yet knowing? [-mrl]
It's the End of the Season As We Know It! (television reviews by Dale Skran):
Recently a number of new and relatively new SF TV shows ended their season, so it is a good time to take stock. iZOMBIE Season 2 (CW, renewed for 3rd season)
iZOMBIE is a transhumanist hard SF police procedural masquerading a horror fantasy. It has all the tropes of traditional zombie movies--eating of brains, white skin and hair, the shambling dead, infection via being bitten, killing zombies via head shots or decapitation, and so on. To this it adds a number of interesting ideas that make it far more than just another zombie story.
The main character, Liv (Olivia Moore, well played by Rose Mclver), has become a zombie after being bitten at a rave party on a boat. As a medical student, she is able to get a job at a forensic morgue which allows her easy access to a steady supply of human brains, without which she becomes one of the shambling, brain-dead zombies of yore. She then makes the discovery that when she eats the brains of a murder victim she takes on some of their memories, personality traits, and skills. To compensate for the loss of her fiance, career, and everything normal, she starts assisting the police as a "psychic" who has flashes of information about the murders. This allows for extended examination of the nature of human identity and the validity of different mental states. Each episode can be surprisingly different as Liv takes on a new personality, and attempts to come to terms with what it means to be a zombie. In addition, as Liv takes on different personality traits there is plenty of opportunity for social satire and demonstrations of her acting chops.
In many ways Liv is a transhumanist vision--she is nearly invulnerable to things that would kill a normal person. Being shot anywhere but the head is a recoverable injury. She does not get sick, and needs only a steady supply of brains to survive. In "full zombie" mode her eyes turn red and she fights with the strength and endurance of many men. The actual fighting skills she displays are a function of whose brain she has eaten lately. The ability to gain various skills by eating brains allows her to respond to different situations with great flexibility.
All of the above would be quite sufficient for an entertaining SF police procedural. I find the idea that she is a zombie pretending to be a psychic amusing. A fantastic lie is used to hide a much more incredible truth. To all of this, iZOMBIE adds a scientific story arc as a morgue co-worker attempts to find a cure for zombism, a crime-lord story as one of the zombies embarks on a career selling brains to newly made zombies, and corporate over- reach story as "Max Rager," a manufacturer of energy drinks, attempts to exploit zombies for profit.
The fate of the world isn't really on the table until the end of the second season when it starts to look like the Max Rager lab will turn into Raccoon City. The focus is small, as zombies slowly infiltrate Seattle in the shadows, creating a secret zombie society alongside normal humans.
iZOMBIE is not "great" SF--but it is SF--and it is pretty entertaining, once you get over any "yuck" factor you might have. So far, there is nothing in iZOMBIE that is supernatural. Zombism is approached as a disease that can be understood and cured via experimentation. Much plot is taken up with rat experiments and their troubling outcomes. Each show has a scene where the brains are eaten, and Liv always prepares them a different way. I've left a lot of details out of this review, but the second season builds rapidly on the first, and the third season promises to move into new territory.
(Spoiler alert) With her partner in the police now in on the secret of zombism, the "big bad" of the first two seasons definitively dead, and a new, larger-scale villain on the horizon, season three ought to be interesting. So make some brain salad, sprinkle on the hot sauce, and curl up to the further adventures of iZOMBIE in the fall.
iZOMBIE is not for little kids or those who are upset at the idea of the heroine eating a brain in each episode. There is violence and sex, but in many ways iZOMBIE brings a sunny outlook to crime, especially depending on whose brain was eaten in a particular episode.
SUPERGIRL Season 1 (CBS, renewed to the CW)
The CW has shown that it has the ability to come out with very good TV superhero shows like FLASH and ARROW. Although quite different, both of these shows has been a success with comic fans and in my view are among the best superhero shows on TV--ever. With the exception of AGENTS OF SHIELD (ABC), most TV superhero shows are just not that good (FYI--I don't get Netflix). Although fans were delighted to see Supergirl on the small screen, there was also angst that things would not turn out so well. Two of the creative team from FLASH/ARROW (Berlanti & Kreisberg) were on deck, so hope existed. Melissa Benoist plays Kara Zor-El/Supergirl well. Rarely has someone been as convincing pretending to be two different people who look exactly alike. However, the show is stolen by Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant, the founder of the media company where Supergirl works in her secret identity. She is amazing good fun to watch, and really makes the show worthwhile.
Another good touch in SUPERGIRL is the inclusion of a lesser known DC character--J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, played by David Harewood. For the most part he is well done, and it is great to see more classic DC characters on the small screen. Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) is a better, more realistic version of Lex Luthor, and as far as I know is not in the comics.
However, SUPERGIRL is just not at the same level as ARROW and the FLASH. The romantic sub-plots verge on the silly, and Mehcad Brooks (a former underwear model) is constantly striking poses as James Olsen, Superman's pal, and Kara's love interest. The general background plot of a Kyptonian prison full of dangerous criminals creates a lop-sidedly large number of bad-guys who inexplicably don't just attack en masse. Some DC heroes like Red Tornado appear as villains.
Supergirl is just too weak. She is constantly getting stuck in things that she ought to easily be able to get out of. Her powers work inconsistently. By comparison ARROW and FLASH are tightly wound watches written by Joss Whedon at his best (if he were writing for these shows). They are just on a different, higher level as super-hero shows. SUPERGIRL seems more like a good Saturday morning cartoon with Calista Flockhart as the high point. It was recently announced that SUPERGIRL is being renewed, but will move to the CW. This opens up a lot of possibilities, and it can only be hoped that the super-hero friendly CW will allow for more challenging plots.
I plan to continue to watch SUPERGIRL out of general fan loyalty and to see if it improves, but so far I am disappointed with the results but optimistic about the move to the CW. SUPERGIRL is relentlessly upbeat and suitable for all audiences.
LIMITLESS Season 1 (CBS, canceled)
If you have not been watching LIMITLESS, you have been missing the best hard SF on TV today. A continuation of the movie of the same name starring Bradley Cooper, LIMITLESS steps over the edge of tomorrow with the drug NZT, which greatly enhances human intellect at the cost of numerous side-effects that lead to insanity and eventual death. Our main hero, Brian Finch (played wonderfully by Jake McDorman) is a talented but shiftless looser until by chance he ends up taking NZT and becoming embroiled in NZT-enhanced Senator Eddie Mora's (Bradley Cooper) plan to infiltrate the FBI. Each week Finch solves a major crime for the FBI while being asked to perform mysterious tasks by Jarrod Sands (Colin Salmon), his handler for Mora.
No TV show or movie does as good a job as LIMITLESS in portraying the operation of superior human intelligence. Finch becomes a super-genius in the whimsical manner of Freeman Dyson or Richard Feynman. Here are a few quotes from the wikipedia article on Feynman:
Due to the top secret nature of the work, Los Alamos was isolated. In Feynman's own words, "There wasn't anything to do there." Bored, he indulged his curiosity by learning to pick the combination locks on cabinets and desks used to secure papers. Feynman played many jokes on colleagues. In one case he found the combination to a locked filing cabinet by trying the numbers he thought a physicist would use (it proved to be 27-18-28 after the base of natural logarithms, e = 2.71828...), and found that the three filing cabinets where a colleague kept a set of atomic bomb research notes all had the same combination. He left a series of notes in the cabinets as a prank, which initially spooked his colleague, Frederic de Hoffmann, into thinking a spy or saboteur had gained access to atomic bomb secrets.
Feynman took up drawing at one time and enjoyed some success under the pseudonym "Ofey", culminating in an exhibition of his work. He learned to play a metal percussion instrument (frigideira) in a samba style in Brazil, and participated in a samba school.
He was an enthusiastic amateur player of bongo drums and often played them in the pit orchestra in musicals at CalTech.
In addition, he had some degree of synesthesia for equations, explaining that the letters in certain mathematical functions appeared in color for him, even though invariably printed in standard black-and-white. [-Wikipedia]
Finch's synestehsia--the ability to perceive one form of neural input via a different sense, i.e. smells as colors--is used to solve crimes in at least one episode. Finch is often portrayed as playing drums to relax and/or think.
Finch may be the smartest man in any room, but he can be surprised, so having access to all relevant data is critical for the best results. The effects of NZT on different characters are well thought out, as are the plot developments that arise out of the existence of the drug. The weekly plots vary from normal "most- wanted" type criminals to SF tales of immortal mice and robotic arms that Asimov would have been proud of.
So why doesn't everyone like this show? One problem may be that it is a "dramedy." Some may find Finch a bit too whimsical for their taste. Certainly the more popular but in many ways similar BLACKLIST and BLINDSPOT are completely serious. Personally I find Finch a welcome counterpoint to the dour, robotic "geniuses" who often appear in TV and movies. Others may simply not grasp the ideas being explored in the different episodes. Compared to the in many ways similar INTELLIGENCE last year, which concerned a cybernetically enhanced human with super-intellect, LIMITLESS is brilliantly acted and tightly plotted. Ron Rifkin adds acting chops as Dennis Finch, Brian's lawyer father. Jennifer Carpenter plays FBI Special Agent Rebecca Harris, Finch's partner/handler. The episode I, REBECCA HARRIS in which she finally takes NZT in an effort to catch the man who murdered her father is one of the high points of the show. Just as different very smart people approach problems differently, NZT impacts each user differently, a theme the show uses to good effect.
LIMITLESS is fine for tweens and up, although probably impossible for a little kid to follow without NZT. There is sex and violence, as well as drug use. Finch, of course, uses NZT daily, but turns to pot when things are going badly for him. As an SF fan, if you have the slightest interest in the general area covered by LIMITLESS, you need to be watching this show! Although LIMITLESS started with great ratings, it fell off considerably. It was recently announced that LIMITLESS has been canceled, and will not return in any form. Network TV, including CBS, is consistently demonstrating that it cannot sustain good SF shows, while the CW and SyFy SF shows keep getting better and better. It is also possible that audiences are fundamentally disturbed by shows like LIMITLESS and INTELLIGENCE since they are all too possible, and so the viewers seek lighter fair. More so that much of SF, NZT may represent our real future, and that thought can be terrifying.
BITTEN Season 3 (SyFy, canceled but really just wound up)
In BITTEN's third and final season, our merry band of werewolves are threatened by the Russian Pack and their unstoppable psychopathic assassin. Elena finds out who her family was, and reconnects with her father. This series has always been intriguing, but is marred by an excessive amount of torture and an unrealistic avoidance of firearms that is poorly explained. The BITTEN finale deserves a lot of credit for bringing the story of Elena and her pack to a logical conclusion that is both surprising and satisfying.
Due to soft-core cable sex and rather extended torture sequences, BITTEN is for adults only. Having said that, BITTEN was well-acted and entertaining, as well as better thought out than many supernatural tales.
THE MAGICIANS Season 1 (SyFy, renewed for Season 2)
Based on the book of the same name by Lev Grossman, THE MAGICIANS represents a new, higher quality level for SyFy shows. Imagine Harry Potter mixed with Narnia but written by Charles Stross in his adult mode, and you have some idea what you are in for. THE MAGICIANS puts forward a hero--Quentin--who eventually realizes that he probably isn't really the hero of the story. More than most tales of magic, THE MAGICIANS explores both the temptation of using magic to become a god, and the painful limitations and dangers that might accompany real magic. Well-acted and well- written, THE MAGICIANS is worth your time if you find this sort of thing interesting. Be warned that this is one of the more sexually frank shows on cable TV, with sex magic of various kinds intrinsic to the plot, and the sexual molestation of children (not explicit) a major motivating factor for some characters. To try to make this concrete, imagine that Harry, Hermione, and Ron having a threesome was one of the normal sexual situations in HARRY POTTER, and you have some idea of what THE MAGICIANS is like.
Intelligently written, well-acted, and challenging, THE MAGICIANS is for adults only due to sexual content and adult themes, as well as some violence.
RISING TIDES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a generally well-made documentary examining the rising of sea level, the land erosion it causes, and how the problem is manifesting itself globally. It reports on the crisis and contains several interviews with government officials, experts, and victims commenting on the size of the problem and what is being done to counter it. The film first shows the size of the problem facing us and then reports on engineering solutions that are being tried to limit erosion. Jason Auerbach co-directed the film with Scott Duthie and co-wrote the film with Michele Loschiavo. Auerbach says that his goal was to start conversation and not to scare people, but his facts are--and should be--a little scary. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
A new documentary looks at the coming fate of the world as the planet heats up and human engineering is working to limit the disastrous consequences.
The world's temperatures are increasing, icecaps are melting, and as a result sea levels are rising. There are a many aspects to climate change and the rising of the oceans is one of the changes whose effects are most devastating. There are already island nations built on very low-lying islands.
As the climate has changed there have been disastrous hurricanes and typhoons showing the strength of the rising oceans. Hurricane Katrina did $135 billion of damages and caused 986 deaths. Hurricane Sandy did $20 billion in property damage and caused 149 deaths. Typhoon Yolanda, the most powerful storm ever to make landfall, had 6300 casualties in 2013. Storms are getting more powerful as the oceans reach higher levels. And sea level is not just rising; its level is accelerating upward. The most commonly considered cause of the increase in ocean volume is melting icecaps, but as seawater warms it expands and becomes less dense. Thirdly, tectonic movement can squeeze out water. Seas can rise but land usually will not so water reaches further and further into what used to be inland.
It is not just foreign countries that are threatened. Miami, being a low-lying coastal city, is in particular peril. Currently sea level rises about 1/7th of an inch per year. That means that in one year the edge of the water would advance about 120 feet. Even an inch or two of sea level rise would much increase the chances of disastrous floods. Right now Miami floods at high tide. Salt water is seeping inland, killing animal and plant life that require fresh water and filling the aquifers that are needed for fresh water supply.
This film is a call to action. In current United States politics there is almost no mention of the coming menace of rising water. Little is being done and certainly not what is needed. The longer the problem waits for attention the worse it will be when passed on to later generations. We need to plan what we will do when the oceans inevitably rise.
Auerbach summarizes engineering approaches to limiting damage and to "nourish" the coastline, the most successful of which seems to be to create artificial reefs to slow erosion. Auerbach considers the question of whether the best approach is to conflict with nature or to let it just take its course.
Structurally the film does have a problem. It begins with the frightening realities of rising sea levels and then somewhat calms the viewer with engineering solutions (partial ones) to the problems and reports of approaches that have and have not helped. What we see are limited solutions to what we know are worldwide problems, and the solutions clearly do not scale up well. A solution that costs just a few million dollars to protect two miles of coastline is not going to be a feasible solution for island nations. And if the viewer is not frightened by the size of the problem and the difficulties in overcoming them, then the film has not done its job. I rate RISING TIDES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. RISING TIDES was released on DVD and VOD on June 21.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5069996/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rising_tides/
GYPSY, AURORA, Turner Classic Movies, and Samuel Pepys (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to various comments in the 06/24/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
Dale Skran is right on GYPSY & AURORA: showing ideas not working is easy, just jimmy the plot. Robinson's are particularly awkward-- cryo suspension gets invented just to get his characters back to Earth, never mind that they undermine his thesis.
Try Stephenson's SEVENEVES for the reverse: making things work despite huge losses. Much more in the spirit of J. W. Campbell.
I always use your movie notes, esp. on 1950s movies that are sf or westerns.
Hey Pepys was honest, that's why we value him. His sexual escapades are not much compared to 20th C writers. [-gb]
THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 5) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Pepys was a great one for making vows of avoiding plays, or wine, or whatever, during Lent, or until Whitsuntide, or for other lengths of time. But he tended to break them, as when he writes, "Though there was good singing and dancing, yet no fancy in the play, but something that made it less contenting was my conscience that I ought not to have gone by my vow, and, besides, my business commanded me elsewhere. But, however, as soon as I came home I did pay my crown to the poor's box, according to my vow, and so no harm as to that is done, but only business lost and money lost, and my old habit of pleasure wakened." [October 21, 1662]
And later: "... besides that I must by my oath give half as much more to the poor [as he spent on a play] ..." [May 4, 1663]
He does seem to take the vows somewhat seriously, specifically citing the spirit, rather than the letter, of them: "To my office to set down this day's passage, and, though my oath against going to plays do not oblige me against this house, because it was not then in being, yet believing that at the time my meaning was against all publique houses, I am resolved to deny myself the liberty of two plays at Court, which are in arreare to me for the months of March and April, which will more than countervail this excess, so that this month of May is the first that I must claim a liberty of going to a Court play according to my oath." [May 8, 1663]
Then again, he also looks for loopholes: "I only drinking some hypocras, which do not break my vowe, it being, to the best of my present judgement, only a mixed compound drink, and not any wine." [October 29, 1663] Hippocras is a drink made from wine, sugar, and spices, so saying it was not wine is sheer mendacity on his part. (It sounds like spiced Manischewitz.)
Ever resourceful, Pepys finds yet another way to bend his vow not to go to plays (or spend money on plays-it is not clear exactly how it is expressed), as he writes, "I got him to give my wife and me a play this afternoon, lending him money to do it, which is a fallacy that I have found now once, to avoyde my vowe with, but never to be more practised I swear..." [August 13, 1664] At least he does seem to feel guilty about bending the rules this way.
But he does not always feel guilty. When Lord Rutherford insists that Pepys accompany him to a play, Pepys writes, "And here I must confess breach of a vow in appearance, but I not desiring it, but against my will, and my oathe being to go neither at my own charge nor at another's, as I had done by becoming liable to give them another, as I a to Sir W. Pen and Mr. Creed; but here I neither know which of them paid for me, nor, if I did, am I obliged ever to return the like, or did it by desire or with any willingness. So that with a safe conscience I do think my oath is not broke and judge God Almightty will not think it other wise." [September 28, 1664]
And he also writes, "... but, Lord! to see in what readiness I am, upon the expiring of my vowes this day, to begin to run into all my pleasures and neglect of business." [May 15, 1665]
Pepys went to so many plays that he could not remember them all. On January 5, 1667, he writes of going to see "Mustapha", "A most excellent plays for words and design as ever I did see. I had seen it before by forgot it, so it was wholly new to me, which is the pleasure of my not committing these things to my memory."
Comments on Wigs:
Apparently people wore wigs as a way to conceal dirty hair rather than because they liked wigs: "I did try two or three borders and perriwiggs, meaning to wear one; and yet I have no stomach [for it,] but that the pains of keeping my hair clean is so great." May 9, 1663]
There is a certain hypocrisy in Pepys"s complaint that "this day my wife begun to wear light-coloured locks, quite white almost, which, though it makes her look very pretty, yet not being natural, vexes me, that I will not have her wear them." [March 13, 1664] He seems to ignore that he wears a periwig which surely does not duplicate his hair perfectly.
One is reminded of how horrific surgery must have been before anesthetic, but also how people just accepted this, when we read, "My wife tells me that she hears that my poor aunt James hath had her breast cut off here in town, her breast having long been out of order. This day, after I had suffered my owne hayre to grow long, in order to wearing it, I find the convenience of periwiggs is so great, that I have cut off all short again, and will keep to periwiggs." This is all in one paragraph, as if having your hair cut is equivalent to a mastectomy. Was this indifference to painful surgery common in the period, or is Pepys particularly insensitive? [May 5, 1665]
In the midst of the Great Plague, Pepys wonders "what will be the fashion after the plague is done, as to periwiggs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire, for fear of infection, that it had been cut off of the heads of people dead of the plague." [September 3, 1665] By October 22, 1668, he has decided the danger is past, because he writes, "W. Batelier's Frenchman, a periwigg maker, comes and brings me a new one, which I liked and paid him for..."
Comments on Books:
Of a new book, Pepys writes, "It is dedicated to almost all the men of any great condition in England, so that the Epistles are more than the book itself, and both it and them not worth a turd," [May 28, 1663]
As noted in the section on the Great Fire, the Fire definitely drove the price of books up. But it was not *just* the Fire that drove the price of books up. On September 3, 1668, he writes that Thomas Hobbes's LEVIATHAN "is now mightily called for; and what was heretofore sold for 8s, I now give 24s. for, at the second hand, and is sold for 30s., it being a book the Bishops will not let be printed again."]
Many of us have some of the same problems Pepys has: "The truth is, I have bought a great many books lately to a great value; but I think to buy no more till Christmas next, and those that I have will so fill my two presses [bookcases] that I must be forced to give away some to make room for them, it being my design to have no more at any time for my proper library than to fill them." [January 10, 1668]
One method for achieving this is a trifle unusual: "Thence to the Strand, to my bookseller's, and there staid an hour, and bought the idle, rogueish book, 'L'escholle des filles;' which I have bought in plain binding, avoiding the buying of it better bound, because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found." [February 8, 1668]
Okay, next week we finally get to the Great Plague and the Great Fire. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE WORLD OF LUCHA LIBRE by Heather Levi (ISBN 978-0-8223-4232-8) is a look at Mexican wrestling. I am not terribly familiar with the sport, knowing it entirely from the movies of El Santo and Blue Demon (and most of those in unsubtitled Spanish). It's not for want of trying--I had heard there were live matches in San Antonio and had hoped to see it live when we went there, but no such luck. I suppose the fascination with professional wrestling might be hereditary; my grandmother used to watch it back in the days of Gorgeous George. (She would say it gave her heart palpitations, but that did not stop her from watching it.)
Levi trained as a "lucha libre" wrestler (a "luchadora") while researching the book, and has a lot of information about the training and organizational structure of lucha libre in Mexico, including quite a bit about its connections with politics. Unfortunately, there is too much like, "Some academics argue that professional wrestling's message is counterhegemonic and explain it as a dramatic critique of the pretensions of liberal capitalism" and not enough of, say, the appeal of "minis" (a specialized group, wrestlers who are dwarfs or midgets). She does have an entire chapter on masks and their meanings, although she does note that a third to a half of luchadores do not wear masks.
THE CUTTING ROOM edited by Ellen Datlow (ISBN 978-1-6169-6167-1) is an anthology of horror stories about the movie business. Many were good, many were too graphic for my taste, and I liked the final story ("Illimitable Dominion" by Kim Newman) the best.
BROWSINGS by Michael Dirda (ISBN 978-1-60598-844-3) is a delight to read. Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and other publications, and is an unabashed science fiction fan. Consider that besides all the mentions of science fiction books and authors he makes in general (and not just those few know to the general public), in the essay "Text Mess" he describes consulting E. F. Bleiler's GUIDE TO SUPERNATURAL FICTION, John Clute (whom he calls "our greatest living critic of science fiction and fantasy"), and L. W. Currey ("the leading American dealer in first-edition science fiction, fantasy, and horror").
The icing on the cake, of course, is his essay "Readercon" all about, well, Readercon: what it is, why he attends it every year, who else attends it, and so on. Most "serious" critics would never admit to attending a science fiction convention--Dirda writes a column positively glorying in it. He later also talks about attending Capclave and a Discworld convention, and has a lovely story about "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction".
He also is willing to give "popular fiction" its due, and describes two courses he has taught at the University of Maryland, "The Classic Adventure Novels: 1885-1915" and "The Modern Adventure Novel: 1917-1973". The reading lists are:
(Indeed, he writes in a column towards the end how he wishes he could get an advance to write a book about "The Great Age of Storytelling": "the amazing flowering of popular fiction in England and elsewhere from roughly 1860 to 1930." And in a postscript written for the book, he reveals that he did indeed find a publisher and is hoping the book, under that title, will appear in 2016.)
It's not a book to check out from the library, though, unless you want to copy down dozens and dozens of book titles that you really must look for... [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he is a baby. --Natalie WoodTweet
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