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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 09/09/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 11, Whole Number 1927
Table of Contents
Secret Agent Polka (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was listening to a film music station on the computer. They played the James Bond theme. I was thinking that the Bond theme was ultra-cool. I wondered if anyone had ever played the Bond theme on that least cool of all instruments, the accordion. With Google and YouTube it took about three minutes to find a recording. Three minutes to go from concept to fulfillment for something like Bond on accordion. What an age we live in. [-mrl]
METROPOLIS Program Book (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For those interested in science fiction in silent films, the Open Culture site is covering the on-line publication of the 32-page theater program for Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS. To read their article and see selected pages at
The full program book is at
(At the latter site double-click on a page to make it more readable.) [-mrl]
American SF/Horror Anthology Series of the 1950s and 1960s (Part 2, The 1960s) (comments by Mark R. Leeper): Last time I talked about the anthology shows that premiered in the 1950s. The last one was THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which really set the standard for all anthology shows that followed it. Most of that influence was felt more in the 1960s since it ran for five years. That makes it a nice bridge to...
1960 - 1962 THRILLER
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS was a popular TV series, and NBC wanted something like it. They would call their series THRILLER. Somebody associated with mystery should be the host to match Alfred Hitchcock's hosting of his program. They settled on Boris Karloff, a not entirely successful choice. Hitchcock brought a good sense of humor to his hosting, and Karloff played his introductions straight. THRILLER was going to be a crime and suspense series with maybe an occasional horror story thrown in. But the public saw it and was surprised to see that is was just general suspense stories. This was not the sort of thing that Karloff's presence promised. The first stories broadcast were general suspense stories more like what the Hitchcock series was doing, and rather tepid ones at that. But the producers by then had shifted gears to horror. After four episodes the series did mostly stories of horror and the supernatural. They depended rather heavily on Robert Bloch to provide them with much of the writing they got, though names like Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Cornell Woolrich, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson provided either writing the original stories or adapting stories into usable scripts. Visuals frequently lent a foreboding tone, helped by the fact that it was shot in moody monochrome. Some few of the stories were really well done like their adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons from Hell." One I personally found and still find really effective was "The Hungry Glass" which still has the power to scare.
1961 - 1961 WAY OUT
In 1962 CBS ran the 30-minute THE TWILIGHT ZONE on Friday nights, a position of prestige for the popular imagination anthology series. ABC counter-programmed with the our-long 77 SUNSET STRIP, a private eye show. CBS decided to fill out its hour with a Jackie Gleason talk show but when it was not getting the ratings desired they quickly threw together a series even more imaginative than THE TWILIGHT ZONE. What they got was a series that though obviously made on a tiny budget but was from the beginning to the end weird. This may well have been the strangest TV series ever on network television. Writer Roald Dahl, already known for his morbid stories made a fitting host. He introduced each story and gave each an epilog smoking away on a cigarette that he tightly pinched in his claw-like fingers. (I am sure that is was just a coincidence that the sponsor was L&M cigarettes.) The series used the inexpensive studio sets and videotape to their advantage much like the later "found footage films" did. The critics were astonished at seeing something that had not been done on TV before and liked it, but apparently it just creeped out too much of its viewership in the hinterlands and the ratings really suffered. It was cancelled after about a month. This is definitely one of the darkest and most sinister TV series ever on network television.
1963 - 1965 THE OUTER LIMITS
THE OUTER LIMITS was the last science fiction anthology series to have a major impact on the SF fans, possibly up to the present. Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano produced the weekly hour-long show. (The latter had previously written the screenplay to Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO.) They followed what was in some ways a set formula. In large part THE OUTER LIMITS was to feature a monster of the week. Each episode was required to feature a different creature, which they referred to as "the bear." Stefano insisted the bear had to show up in the first few minutes of the broadcast to interest viewers in the story.
The two and their production company used a dozen different special effects techniques to cheaply create the visual images. One could tell the were not big-budget effects, but they were creative. The first episode, "The Galaxy Being," featured a humanoid alien creature that looked like it was made out of electricity. This was created by filming a rubber-suited alien and then making a photographic negative image of it. The most popular aliens were stop-motion animated ants with human-like heads.
One might expect that the self-imposed strictures would doom the quality of the stories, and conceivably it did, but the series had several memorable episodes in its short one and a half season run.
THE OUTER LIMITS started endless arguments as to was it or was it not better than THE TWILIGHT ZONE? Speaking for myself, horror and fantasy were strong interests of mine, but science fiction was a passion. THE TWILIGHT ZONE beat SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE just because the latter had such simplistic stories. The science fiction of THE OUTER LIMITS for me trumped the fantasy stories of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
But THE TWILIGHT ZONE was for most of its run a 30-minute program as opposed to the hour episodes that were on THE OUTER LIMITS. Unlike THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS could do an hour-long story without it feeling padded. THE TWILIGHT ZONE occasionally did decent science fiction stories like Richard Matheson's "Little Girl Lost." Note the name Richard Matheson. He could write a good science fiction story that would fit in a half-hour show. But just like THE TWILIGHT ZONE, more than half of THE OUTER LIMITS episodes were at best mediocre. We remember these TV programs for their best work.
The SF/Horror anthology series is something of a rarity these days. There are a number of reasons for that. To do a science fiction story one these days one expects a fairly complex environment. That can cost production money that would be used in only one episode. STAR TREK had the advantage that the deck of the Enterprise could be used over and over at little expense. It did not have to b built from scratch for each episode. And the public does did not have to learn new characters each week. There is much less reason to make characters of lasting interest for TALES FROM THE CRYPT than there is for STAR TREK. Anthology series have characters that are use-once and thrown away.
These days we get very few anthology series. In the past decades there have been some attempts to reboot many of the successful series. None have lasted very long, but ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, TWILIGHT ZONE, and THE OUTER LIMITS were attempted. But they just did not have the influence of the originals.
The last series I remember having any impact at all was TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
Ten Things I Like/Don't Like about the Prius (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Ten Things I Like about the Prius Ten Things I Don't Like about the Prius 1. The gas mileage; on our 300-mile vacation to Cape May, we got 69.7 miles per gallon. 1. The gas mileage means it is easy to forget to ever look at the gas guage. 2. It is roomier than our old Corolla. 2. It is three inches wider than our old Corolla; our garage isn't. 3. The touch-up paint is reasonably priced. 3. There is no setting that has the headlights come on automatically when you start the car, but turn off when you turn off the car. 4. Toyota has gone back to the folding side mirrors. 4. The glove compartment is smaller than the one in our old Corolla. 5. There is a grace period between when you turn off the car and when the electric windows stop functioning. 5. It is a hatchback. 6. The car gives you a lot of information. 6. The car gives you too much information. 7. There are four cup/bottle holders. 7. There is no ashtray. 8. It plays files off a USB stick. 8. It plays files off a USB stick in what appears to be a somewhat random, or at least not controllable, order. 9. It does not have a whip antenna. 9. It has a 700-page manual, most of which covers features our model does not have. 10. You do not have to take the key out to unlock the doors. 10. You have to have the key very close to the driver's door (i.e., not the hatchback) to open the car.
LOCAL CUSTOM by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (copyright 2002 Ace, 2012 Audible Studios, 11 hours 31 minutes, ISBN-10: 0441009115, ISBN-13: 978-0441009114, narrated by Bernadette Dunne) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
It is not common for me to start reading a book series that has been around several years (Exceptions would be the novels of The Culture, by Iain M. Banks or Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire books). I have no plans to dig into George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series for example, Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time", or Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" (Although that one I keep telling myself I want to try since I enjoyed the short-lived television series from 2007). So, I was not inclined to dig into the "Liaden Universe" novels by Lee and Miller, which a bit of research reveals has been around since 1988. However, an eight- hour drive to Kansas City for MidAmericon 2 was looming. While I was reluctant to start yet another series, not long after the trip began we started listening to LOCAL CUSTOM. I will have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
It is difficult to describe where LOCAL CUSTOM fits in to the Liaden Universe timeline; Lee and Miller have written 20 novels and numerous short stories in the universe in the nearly 30 years since the first book came out. LOCAL CUSTOM arrived in 2002; I have a nasty habit of wanting to read things in order--whatever I define order to be at the time--and this didn't seem like the right place to start. However, not long into the audiobook, it became clear that this was a reasonable entry point into the series.
Liaden custom dictates that a male marries a contract wife chosen for him by his clan and provide an heir. Er Thom yos'Galan (we'll stick with Er Thom) wants no part of this custom; however, he realizes he has a duty to perform. Before he gives in to the inevitable, he must deal with a bit of unfinished business. Three years prior he met and fell in love with Anne Davis, a linguistics professor on a world called University. Er Thom decides to make a trip there to get some closure with Anne, whom he has never forgotten. When he gets there, he discovers that he has a son-- Shan--from that affair. As the reader would suspect, this fact throws Er Thom into a quandary and is really the central item that starts the conflict in the story rolling.
Er Thom has never really forgotten how he felt for Anne and does not want to participate in an arranged marriage, the sole purpose of which is to produce an heir. He would be truly happy with a life contract marriage to Anne and have the chance to be with her and their son in the type of family he truly wants. He brings Anne and Shan back to Liad to present Shan as his true heir. This raises the hackles of his aging and frail mother, Petrelia, who wants no part of the outsiders, and in particular Anne, whom she sees as inferior to any Clan Korval woman that he would marry. A Liaden-Terran marriage would not be appropriate or allowed, if Petrelia had her way.
A side plot lurking in the shadows, one which I presume is covered in later novels, is that Davis and another linguistics scholar have discovered that there is a single root language from which the three main languages (Terran, Liaden, and Yxtrang) of the Liaden universe have descended. There are factions within the Liaden government which are not happy with this line of study or its results. This side plot contributes a bit of action to the novel, but is mainly added as a launch point for later novels.
LOCAL CUSTOM is less of a science fiction story than it is a story of romance and family conflict. It's a story that has been around a long time: man finds his true love in a place that is least expected, tries to bring her into his resistant family, and ends up in conflict (at least for a while), with said true love. Eventually, things work out in the end and while it may or may not be happily ever after in this case (science fiction and fantasy series have a tendency of turning stories on their ears just to stir the pot a bit--although I really have no clue as to what will happen next), things for now are all (mostly good).
Bernadette Dunne does a work(wo)man like job narrating the book. She is neither spectacular nor grating; she did not throw me out of the book at any time. Her best voice is that of the child Shan. I found it charming and delightful. The voices of the rest of the characters were not memorable, but that didn't bother me terribly. I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to another book she narrated, her narration would not be the reason I avoid listening to a particular audiobook.
Due to its family underpinning, LOCAL CUSTOM has a bit of a feel of a Catherine Asaro Skolian Saga book, although at least for this one there is much less science and much more romance. The next book in the series, SCOUT'S PROGRESS, is one I may plop onto my to-read list in the hopes that I get to it some day. [-jak]
LONDON ROAD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A musical with unusual subject matter was commissioned by the British National Theatre and then adapted by almost the same cast and crew into this movie version. The residents of London Road in Ipswich, England, are gripped by fear and paranoia after five naked corpses of prostitutes have been found on their little road. All of the action takes place off-screen except for the reactions of the people only involved because it happened on their street. The dialog is taken from interviews in the three years after the murder and the neighborhood buries their horror by all getting involved in a neighborhood-wide hobby. The first third of the film lives up to the promise of the concept, but what follows is a very English reaction on the road and it will likely not enthrall US audiences. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
A quiet, unexceptional road in Ipswich is rocked by the finding of the bodies of five prostitutes who had been brutally murdered. The retelling of the events of the true crime and the reaction on the road was adapted into a very successful stage play with a twist. The locals' actual accounts of the incident were adapted to musical form. That musical had two sell-out runs at the British National Theatre. The musical play was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards and has now been adapted by its stage director Rufus Norris into a film. As on the stage, Alecky Blythe provided book and lyrics and Adam Cork contributed music and lyrics. It fact most of the actors and crew are directly taken from the successful stage play.
The idea of taking a startling crime and turning it into a stage musical brings back memories of "Sweeney Todd." Sadly, unlike that play this film carefully avoids all the possible thrills in their telling. The subject matter is not the crime itself, but the reaction of the residents of London Road. In fact, we are never even told how the criminal was caught. The perpetrator is caught about a third the way into the film and most of the rest of the story is how the street residents decide to give their road a good name by cleaning the local yards up and having everyone competing to have the most beautiful flower-filled garden. The film culminates in the road's flower festival where awards are given for the nicest gardens. To an American it seems a very British reaction to seek solace in making their gardens grow. American audiences would and the other extreme and would want at least two car chases and a look at the victims' bodies. The music of this musical in large part is injected by having characters speak in singsong voices. There is no melody anybody in the audience is going to want to be humming.
The American viewer longs for the early moments of the film when people were saying anybody could be the killer and "everybody's very, very nervous," and the story might have gone into s Rod- Serling-ish "The Monsters Are Due on London Road." There are not many light moments unless they are just looking at some of the stranger personalities. There is a moment or two of levity watching a newscaster who is not allowed to say the word "sperm" and cannot think of an alternative.
Cinematographer Danny Cohen has some nice photo studies of paranoid faces. His photography early in the film seems to have the feel of a perpetually overcast sky that clears up in time for the end of the film and the flower festival. Perhaps to add a little marquee value the film has one fairly recognizable actor, Tom Hardy. He has only a small part but he is a flavor of the month after making films like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, THE DROP, LOCKE, LEGEND, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
The biggest problem with the film is that so soon in the film it loses all of its tension and goes flaccid. After that the only thing people are nervous about is getting up on the stage at the flower festival. Viewers looking for suspense and excitement will be disappointed. I rate LONDON ROAD a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. LONDON ROAD went into a limited American release on September 7, 2016.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3573598/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/london_road
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
MOBY-DICK AS DOUBLOON edited by Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford (ISBN 978-0-393-9553-7) is a collection of criticism (i.e., analysis) about MOBY-DICK. It has all the contemporary reviews of the novel, as well as well over a hundred articles published over the years since then.
The contemporary reviews seem to be mostly positive, though many are mixed, and I did not keep an accurate score. One thing that struck me was that several reviewers felt that Melville's disrespect towards organized religion was a serious flaw in the book. For example, the magazine JOHN BULL wrote, "[Readers] must be prepared, however, to hear much on board that singularly- tenanted ship which grates upon civilized ears; some heathenish, and worse than heathenish talk is calculated to give even more serious offense. This feature of Herman Melville's new work we cannot but deeply regret. It is due to him to say that he has steered clear of much that was objectionable in some of his former tales; and it is all the greater pity, that he should have defaced his pages by occasional thrusts against revealed religion which add nothing to the interest of his story, and cannot but shock readers accustomed to be a reverent treatment of whatever is associated with sacred subjects."
THE COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER said, "We regret to see that Mr. Melville is guilty of sneering at the truths of revealed religion. On page 58, he makes his hero, 'a good Christian--born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian church,' unite with a Polynesian in worshipping and offering incense to an idol, and in this connection virtually questions the authenticity of the first commandment."
The METHODIST QUARTERLY REVIEW also objected to Melville's attitude: "We are bound to say, however, that the book contains a number of flings at religion, and even of vulgar immoralities that make it unfit for general circulation." And TO-DAY complains, "Yet the humor of those parts where sacred things are made light of ...is revolting to good taste, and may still, we fear, be dangerous to many of those persons who will be likely to read the book."
Several reviewers seem to have misunderstood the end (i.e., that Ishmael survives by clinging to Queequeg's coffin, and is the "orphan" found by the Rachel). The LITERARY GAZETTE wrote, "How the imaginary writer, who appears to have been drowned with the rest, communicated his notes for publication to Mr. Bentley is not explained." Clearly, the reviewer did not bother to read the "Epilogue", assuming it was just some unimportant statements by Melville, rather than the final narration of the Ishmael.
There are other sloppy mistakes. The MORNING CHRONICLE called Queequeg's idol "GoGo" instead of "Yojo", and the Third Mate "Flash" instead of "Flask".
The NEW QUARTERLY REVIEW seems to think that MOBY-DICK was inspired by the destruction of the ship "Ann Alexander" by a whale in August 1851. Melville was actually inspired by the similar destruction of the ship "Essex" thirty years earlier. To have written all of MOBY-DICK and have it published in only two months (from the date of the wreck of the "Ann Alexander" to the date of the first review) is simply not possible.
(The NEW QUARTERLY REVIEW also makes the "no-survivors" error: "As there was no survivor of the catastrophe, how became the author or Mr. Bentley possessed of these minute and painful details?" And the DUBLIN UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE does as well.)
As one moves towards the present, the comments are less quirky-- people have figured out that the Epilogue describes Ishmael's survival, the jibes at religion are not so shocking, and so on. This could be selection bias--while the first part strives to include all known contemporary American and British reviews, the second and third parts must be more selective, and probably leans toward the more important and influential commentary rather than the most off-beat.
I should note that most of the long passages quoted in the articles are cited with elisions; for the full text the page references are given to the Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK. This is not too surprising, as MOBY-DICK AS DOUBLOON is also published by Norton, but may cause difficulty to people using another edition. And speaking of various editions, one professor at Berkeley, who wanted everyone to use the same edition so that citations could be by page number, understood the financial plight of the student and chose the Dover Thrift Edition as the class standard, being both cheap and lightweight compared to other editions.
I'll also add that I have gotten as far as Chapter 95 in my annotations on MOBY-DICK ( http://leepers.us/evelyn/mobydick.htm). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a stable business. --John SteinbeckTweet
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