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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/28/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 18, Whole Number 1934
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
November 10: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) & THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU by H.G. Wells, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM November 17: "Rogue Moon" by Algis Budrys and "The Moon Moth" by Jack Vance (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 8: ENDER'S GAME (2013) and ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM December 22: COPENHAGEN by Michael Frayn, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM January 26: "The Spectre General" by Theodore R. Cogswell and "The Witches of Karres" by James H. Schmitz (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Garden State Spec. Fiction Writers Lectures (subject to change): November 5: David Sklar, Character Dreaming, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for November (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, we are into the holidays and shooting into the year 2017. This is the time of the year that some of the best films are in theaters, those that have hopes of getting awards. I will not point you to a bunch of films, but I have some to recommend. Myself, I will be seeing some of the best films of the year and considering them for my Top Ten list. But I expect I will not be so busy that I will not take a time out and watch two or three Harry Palmer spy films.
In 1962 the newly formed EON film productions company had a big success with their DR. NO, a spy film starring Sean Connery as James Bond. (I know. Tell you something you don't already know.) Eon planned another James Bond film to follow entitled FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. They arranged for a popular spy novelist Len Deighton to write a FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE screenplay. Harry Saltzman was dissatisfied with the script, but also was thinking EON could start another series of spy films, parallel to the Bonds, based on Len Deighton's novels.
One hitch was that Deighton's novels were all written in the first person and Deighton never gave a name to his secret agent. How would his character's name appear in the credits? How would the filmmakers discuss the character? That just would not work for a film, so it was decided to name the character. James Bond had a very bland name and that seemed to work for his series and they settled on the equally bland name Harry Palmer. Actually it was Michael Caine who was playing the character who came up with a name. Asked for a dull first name Caine thought of "Harry." Asked for a dull last name, Caine had known a very dull person named Palmer. So the spy was called Harry Palmer. He was the thinking man's secret agent.
He would be easy to distinguish from Bond. While Bond was a bon vivant, Palmer was by design in some ways just the opposite. Palmer was smarter and much less flamboyant than Bond. Going a step further, Palmer wore glasses, unusual for anyone in a film. Bond knew good food when it was served to him, but Palmer really knew his way around the kitchen. At least for the time the writing for the first two Palmer films--THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) and FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966)--was more realistic and intelligent than the writing for Bond. A third Palmer film, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN, was made in 1967 and for me it was a bad combination. Ken Russell, a fan of surrealist art film, directed it. Russell tried mixing a surreal narrative style with what was already a strange storyline and the film shot straight off the rails. On the other hand, the film was way, way ahead of its time in recognizing the clout that computing power could have in the intelligence business.
There were three more Harry Palmer films made in the 1990s, but they were not nearly as good as the first three. And it is the first three that will be shown in a block on Turner Classic Movies. On Saturday, December 19 TCM will show THE IPCRESS FILE at 8:00 PM and FUNERAL IN BERLIN at 10:00 PM. At midnight we will get the third Harry Palmer film BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN. The films have a marvelous "cold war spy film" feel to them, more realistic than a Bond film but still with more action and thrill than a John LeCarre film.
As for best film of the month, I would probably pick the basketball documentary HOOP DREAMS (1994), which will be shown 9:45 PM on Wednesday, December 16. I never thought I would be recommending a sports film, but HOOP DREAMS is much more.
(Note: Remember all times are Eastern Time zone, Daylight Saving Time through November 5, then Standard Time for the rest of the month.) [-mrl]
THE MONSTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Bryan Bertino directs a suspenseful horror film about a mother and daughter stranded at night on a deserted road. Their car is besieged by what might be a wounded wolf or what might be what wounded it. They have a very dysfunctional relationship and with flashbacks we learn why. This film is an exercise in suspense that does not always work, but still has a few good scares for the audience. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There is a popular sequence in a well-known science fiction or horror film (let me be a little cagey here and try to avoid a major spoiler). It would appear here that writer/director Bryan Bertino adapted that sequence into an entire movie by replacing and developing the characters and telling their background in flashbacks. The basic situation and some of the ways to handle scenes seem to have been borrowed from the previous film.
Kathy (played by Zoe Kazan) and her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) have a relationship that is bad from the ground up. Kathy is irresponsible and a substance abuser and estranged from Lizzy's father, so Lizzy has previously taken the role of the adult of the family. Now Lizzy is fed up and wants to go to her father, and while Cathy does not like the idea, she is cooperating. Lizzy wants to get there as soon as possible even if it means that Kathy has to drive all night.
They are the only people on a back road when suddenly their car hits something big and spins around smashing the driver's door. It looks to be a wolf dead in the road, but a few minutes later the wolf's body has disappeared. There must be something else on the road, probably bigger than the wolf. And you guessed it: as the mother and daughter learn to depend on each other the ice between them melts. If it had not, the audience would not be so anxious to have the two save themselves. At first neither person seemed worth the effort to save. But each eventually realizes that the other may be the key to her survival
The film is left with some long scenes of the beleaguered pair facing off against something they can never get a good look at. Scenes like these put the director on a knife-edge between keeping the viewer in suspense and being tedious. Sometimes seeing too much nothing in the progress in the story will lose the viewer or it may just tighten the suspense. Here it does both. The film sometimes works, though some pieces carry on too long.
Bertino does some decent exercise in atmosphere, e.g. sending the car down dark Freudian roads lit only by a pair of headlights. He largely introduces the whatsit just a bit at a time. The viewer is left to question if he/she really saw what it looked like. Little visual details are added slowly. [Incidentally, I saw the poster after only after seeing the film and I would have been unhappy had I seen them in the other order. The poster is a stupendous spoiler. Take that as a warning.]
I rate THE MONSTER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It is of note that Zoe Kazan is the granddaughter of the great but controversial film director Elia Kazan.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3976144/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_monster_2016
General Grant's PERSONAL MEMOIRS (letters of comment by Jim Susky, Taras Wolansky, John Purcell, and Philip Chee):
In response to Evelyn's comments on General Grant's PERSONAL MEMOIRS in the 10/21/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Please extend my thanks to Evelyn for her outstanding and very generous review of General Grant's Memoirs. I now have at the ready a public domain copy and am eager to read it.
Based on the review Grant seems overly modest--a self-admitted non- academic who nonetheless expresses himself well in print (the product of a good editor?) and who betrays a thoughtful temperament and a keen moral conscience.
There was one bit of dissonance (for me, anyway).
"Grant's observation on the surrender at Appomattox has been much quoted, but probably should be included here:
'I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.'
It sounds very noble, from 150 years away, when both sides were re- united into one country again. It sounds a little less glorious if one considers trying to ask the Allied troops who fought the Japanese in World War II to take this attitude, or the troops fighting ISIS now. Fighting long and valiantly is not enough to make up for fighting for a terrible cause."
I detect no glory in Grant's observation--rather the opposite. He acknowledges the South's effort and suffering even as he critiques the implied "cause" (to be let alone to practice slavery). He then acknowledges the soldier's (Grant's "great mass") plight in defending the interests of the more abstract collective "foe". Quite a lot in a short paragraph.
I wonder if in his Memoir Grant explicitly addressed the complex and conflicting loyalties between the individuals who chose sides? I know only a little of the extensive written history involved with the Southern Rebellion, but know that no less than Theodore Roosevelt's father regretted not going to war for the North (Mrs. Roosevelt was a "Southern Belle"). His progeny thus fought in every American War for decades thereafter.
If only for reasons of proximity (lack thereof) one should hardly expect American troops (or their Allied counterparts) to take an attitude much congruent with Grant's. Both wars had their triggering events and both involved conscripts, but beyond that the parallels are sketchy.
By December 7th Japan was many years into its conquest of the Pacific. Our "beef" with them was a reaction to what Japan hoped to be a preemptive blow. The Southern Rebellion (and the North's reaction) had fermented for decades and was likely to be inevitable. One wonders how stable a Japanese Empire would have been without their drastic Pearl Harbor mis-calculation.
In any case, I thank Evelyn again for her fascinating character sketch of General Grant. [-js]
Let me ask you a question. If you had been a Southerner with no political power and no slaves and you were forced to join the fight or be punished for committing a crime, what would you have done? Suppose you were just cannon fodder being applied to a cause you did not choose. Grant is complimenting the cannon fodder that fought for the South. In that context his statement makes sense to me. [-mrl]
I think we agree about Grant's regard for those that did not desert.
That's a good question about cannon fodder, Mark. I imagine I might have deserted and, if not captured and hung (by either side), would have sent a letter to my family explaining my desertion.
I've read that Lincoln first instituted "the draft" to assure a preponderance of force for the Union and that there were riots in New York over that--but I'm not so sure about the draft for freemen in the South.
I admit to being colorblind about the matter--or merely ignorant. When I think of Civil War soldiers I think of white men who sent letters and kept diaries about the War. To shine light on my own ignorance--I checked a presumably credible source.
Under "Armed Forces" there is a brief discussion about the terms of military service in the South:
Here's a synopsis:
Confederate forces consisted of mainly white males aged between 16 and 28. were volunteers at first--most did not reinlist after their one-year commitments expired. To build up their forces "the Confederate Congress enacted the first mass conscription on the North American continent." At first this was a "selective service" but later became essentially "universal".
So, you are right that men without power were forced to fight for the South. [-js]
Taras Wolansky writes:
I enjoyed the excerpts from Ulysses Grant's memoirs. He was dying of cancer, of course, trying to earn some money for his wife before the end. Does he mention the most embarrassing episode of his military career, when he expelled all "Jews" from parts of three Southern states? "The Texians brought slavery into Mexican territory, where it was prohibited": Rather, slavery was banned after the settlers brought their slaves. The American settlers--armed yeomen--had been invited in to fight the Comanche; evidently nobody in the Mexican government recalled what happened when Rome tried to use Germans the same way. [-tw]
And John Purcell adds:
The other item of note I really enjoyed reading was Evelyn's extensive review of Ulysses Grant's memoir. As a history buff, this book certainly appeals to me, and Evelyn's review definitely solidified my desire to read the book. It is probably in my school's library. I shall check into that. An interesting autobiography would be a most welcome change from reading and grading student essays. [-jp]
Project Gutenberg has a copy if you can't find one locally.
No, Grant did not mention General Order No. 11 in his memoirs. See my review of WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS by Jonathan D. Sarna, reviewed in the 05/17/16 issue of the MT VOID, and available at http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/rev-s.htm#order11, for more details.
Also Kevin R notes that I misspelled "habeas corpus". [-ecl]
Canine Intelligence (letters of comment by Jim Susky and Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's comments on canine intelligence in the 10/14/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
I read with great interest your piece on dogs and how they demonstrate intelligence and learning.
(Shared as well with my dog-loving friends--one of whom shares a house with "doxies".)
That dog who was trained to reliably select a thousand different objects is the most impressive intellectual canine feat I've heard of.
I'd like to remark that seems comparable to the memories of mostly non-literate medieval Europeans.
We moderns have literacy tools that permit us to let our memories remain undeveloped. Our predecessors had few such tools so had to rely on keenly-developed memories to retain and access information that we routinely write--or so I have read. [-js]
Taras Wolansky writes:
My sister had a dog, a highly intelligent black Lab, with a sense of humor. Every time they went for a drive, he would steal one of her seat cushions and gleefully wait until she took notice, and then they would have a playful tug of war while she "scolded" him. Of course, to his doggy mind, the exact same joke was funny over and over and over; he was like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in that respect. [-tw]
I guess it is questionable if dogs have a sense of humor. I believe it is thought that dogs actually laugh, but they do it as a pant. I find the subject a little embarrassing. My dachshund seemed to have a sense of humor. He liked to play a game. He would have me hold his dog collar and then pull it out of my hands and take it across the floor and dropped it. I would be expected to go pick it up and hold it in my hands for a second and the game would start again. It was years before I realized he had taught me to go fetch. [-mrl]
SHIN GODZILLA and Rating Scales (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's review of SHIN GODZILLA in the 10/21/16 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
I have yet to see the newest Godzilla film, despite my deep affinity for all things Gojira and Daikaiju. The 1954 original movie had a lot going for it, especially those dark undertones of destructive loss to a foreign invader, to say nothing about the cold war and nuclear fears hanging over the world. I always thought that the seriousness of the original followed the standards set by that many other early Fifties science fiction movies that dealt with similar fearful topics, such as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, FORBIDDEN PLANET, and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. I have long felt that GOJIRA belonged in that group of classics for the very reasons you mentioned as its strengths. I definitely would like to see SHIN GODZILLA. It certainly sounds like a worthy addition to the Godzilla canon.
Your movie rating system has always interested me a little. I mean, why use both the -4 to +4 scale, followed by the 1-10 scale? Why not instead just use one, such as simply rating SHIN GODZILLA at 8/10 or a high +2? I get the really bad side of the first scale--having a negative score indicates true wretchedness--but why use both rating scales? Just curious. [-jp]
John, I promise you one of my first columns on November will be on the subject of why I have the funny rating scales and why I like them. And I want to thank you for asking. Why so effusive? After writing columns on weekly or nearly weekly basis since the late 1970s I am not ashamed to say I am going through a spate of writers' block. That being the case at the time of your request I would be delighted to discuss my rating scale and how to interpret it. [-mrl]
SHIN GODZILLA and Translated Titles (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Steve Coltrin, Gary McCath, Scott Dorsey, and Paul Dormer):
In response to Mark's review of SHIN GODZILLA in the 10/21/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee asks:
Shouldn't that be *NEW* GODZILLA [rather than GODZILLA RESURGENCE]? [-pc]
Steve Coltrin adds:
That's what SHIN GODZILLA means. [-sc]
It also doesn't mean GODZILLA RESURGENCE. [-pc]
To which Steve responds:
So what? Also, it's a hell of a lot closer than many translations of titles are. [-sc]
Scott Dorsey adds:
THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES was translated into German as CABARET DER ZOMBIES. Which, to be honest, is a far better title. [-sd]
Not much wouldn't be. [-sc]
Paul Dormer notes:
I used to be able to get German TV on satellite, and some of the translations were quite amusing. As I recall (and IMDb has just confirmed), AIRPLANE II was DIE UNGLAUBLICHE REISE IN EINEM VERRUCKTEN RAUMSCHIFF, which I translate as THE UNBELIEVABLE JOURNEY IN A CRAZY SPACESHIP.
And (as those who read James Nicoll's LiveJournal might have seen) the classic British comedy KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS is ADEL VERPFLICHTET, which Google translate renders as NOBLESSE OBLIGE, which technically is not an English translation. (Actually, when I first tried to translate the German some years ago, Google translate gave KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS as a translation of ADEL VERPFLICHTET.) [-pd]
Gary McGath says [in response to both threads]:
[SHIN GODZILLA has] got me thinking of a two-foot-high Godzilla who breathes fire on your shins.
The German translation of Terry Pratchett's THE UNADULTERATED CAT is titled DIE GEMEINE HAUSKATZE, or "the common house cat." The rest of the translation is just as much of a dud. [-gmg]
Now there is a scary idea, pocket monsters. As for the title, I have no choice on that. Toho chooses the title, of course. But since it is a reboot from the very beginning, it is both a resurgence of Godzilla stories and it is about a new Godzilla. [-mrl]
And Paul adds:
Terry used to tell a story about how he changed German publishers because the first one was interpolating adverts into the translation. (I think he said Iain Banks had tipped him off about this.) So, after some characters had been captured and put in a dungeon, the text continued, "And while our heroes are in the dungeon, they could do with a nice cup of Schmidt's soup." Or words to that effect. [-pd]
AURORA and Gregory Benford, Jane Austen, One-Word Film Titles, Walmart, CASABLANCA, SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY, and Ideology and Scientific Consensus (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to various comments in recent issues of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
On the subject of Gregory Benford: At Worldcon I heard him excoriate Kim Stanley Robinson for his novel, AURORA. While the questions Robinson raised were important, Benford said, Robinson handled them in a--how do we put this tactfully--disingenuous way.
I never read AURORA, but I read Robinson's related essay in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN--but I didn't realize he was the author until the end. I remember thinking the author is aware of SF but can't have read much, or he would know all his objections to interstellar travel have been raised and answered dozens of time.
Review of THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN: One of the fun things about reading Austen is that, with only six novels plus one volume of juvenilia and fragments, the amateur can read all of her fiction and then argue with the critics on equal terms. By contrast, if you tried to do the same thing with Trollope, you'd have to read about 70 novels. (I've read about half, I think.)
When I glanced at Evelyn's "One-Word Film Titles", it took me a minute to realize these were real movies, not parodies. I go to the movies a lot but, out of 16, I saw only 7, and heard of just 2 more. (LOOPER sounded ridiculous; and HER violated my rule about movies with protagonists whose lives are duller than mine.)
I've had better luck with Walmart pies than you have. (Their multi-berry pie is particularly good.) Most likely, the assistant baker at your store forgot to stir the big can of pie filling before he ladled it into the crusts, so the last pies he made got all the cherries. "Everyone knew the consumer would be disappointed and probably actually cheated." If Walmart had made it a practice to disappoint their customers, it would not have grown to 11,500 locations and half-a-trillion dollars a year in revenues.
[I think you are wrong about accepting the practice. The percentage of disappointments need only be small enough that it does not frighten away customers. And what strikes one person as low quality some other customer might not complain about and for that customer would lead to a successful sale. Getting the one bad pie has not changed my buying habits at Walmart beyond making me avoid one brand of pie. -mrl]
Nobody has to shop at Walmart.
One place Walmart really shines is in their pharmacy department. There's an OTC medication I use that costs me 10 or 12 times more if I buy it anyplace else. Also, there's an Rx that had gradually risen, over the years, to over $215 every 90 days from drugstore.com. Recently I switched to Walmart: my last receipt (including about $20 off from a discount card) came to $106 and change. And the pharmacist apologized to me because they couldn't get it any lower!
[I am curious, have you tried Costco? I find they are extremely reasonable on OTC. -mrl]
Depending on how you figure it, Walmart is either four or eight times the size of Costco, with about twelve times as many US employees. They're not in direct competition, however: Walmart is a retailer, while Costco is a warehouse club.
Unions and their friends hate Walmart, so they spread false stories about it (and do other things, too). I got into an argument with a Walmart hater who insisted Walmart sells only "home product" items. Clearly she had never even been inside a Walmart, not even once.
[I do know people who hate Walmart. Evelyn and I are frequent shoppers at each. Sometimes it will depend on the item which store we will go to. -mrl]
CASABLANCA's "Letters of Transit": Perhaps not literally as described in the movie, but the Nazis were sticklers for legal form, which is how Raoul Wallenberg was able to save thousands of Jews by handing out slips of paper.
[What stopped the Wallenberg Jews from being killed was not the slips of paper, but the fact that the enforcers of Nazi policy were ignorant of what Wallenberg was doing. Had they found out it would have had very nasty consequences. -mrl]
Review of SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY. What's wrong with this sentence: "There are serious threats to that biodiversity as mega- corporations genetically modify plants ..." Obviously, genetically modifying plants increases biodiversity, rather than reducing it.
[In the short term, yes. But if through genetic modification you create a strain that out competes every other competing strain you have lost diversity. -mrl]
The latest SKEPTICAL INQUIRER has an article about how one's ideology can prevent one from accepting a scientific consensus. For conservatives, it's global warming. For liberals, fracking, and genetically modified organisms. Liberals have more documentary filmmakers than conservatives do, of course!
Finally, thanks again for all the great issues I've been commenting on. [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
At first glance, TWELVE DAYS OF TERROR by Richard G. Fernicola, MD (ISBN 978-1-4930-2324-0) would appear to be similar to CLOSE TO SHORE by Michael Capuzzo (ISBN 978-0-7679-0414-8), which is reviewed in the 07/29/16 issue of the MT VOID. but it differs in many ways.
First off, let me say that one rarely sees an author use "M.D." after his name on a cover unless the book is about something medical, and while one can argue that the injuries sustained by the victims qualify, this does not seem to be primarily a medical book.
Second, the cover says, "With a New 100th Anniversary Preface" and the back cover says that the book was made into a television movie also titled TWELVE DAYS OF TERROR, yet the copyright date in the book is 2016, with no indication of an earlier publication. A bit of Googling shows the book was originally published in 2001 and the movie made in 2004, but whether this book has any new material other than the new preface is unknown. (Capuzzo's book was also published in 2001.)
As one reviewer noted, Capuzzo treats the shark as a character and his book has the flow of a novel (think Truman Capote's "non- fiction novel"), while Fernicola is more like a textbook. In addition, Fernicola includes the story of his research: how he tracked down witnesses and relatives of witnesses, and what they said. Capuzzo relies more on documents (death certificates, newspapers, and so on), and if he includes "direct testimony" he does does make how he got it part of the narrative.
Fernicola also spends more time on subsequent shark attacks and studies, trying to find some definite answers to whether it was one shark, and what type of shark(s). Capuzzo has much less of this, because he covers much more of the ambiance of the 1916 Jersey Shore.
Apparently, Fernicola spent twenty years researching the attacks. Capuzzo's book, on the other hand, will be more accessible to the casual reader. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else. --Ogden NashTweet
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