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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/04/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 19, Whole Number 1935
Table of Contents
The Interplanetary Experience:
https://www.xkcd.com/1752/ asks what places on Earth people could go to, to try and have a real Interplanetary Experience, as if they where explorers on these planets.
Monster of a Wine??? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"...And this is wine to drink." "Drink... Good!""
You know even Turner Classic Movies goes too far:
"Frankenstein Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep, dark monster of a wine from Francis Ford Coppola's Director's Series;"
More Thoughts on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was asked by a friend what I thought of the latest STAR WARS film. This was about nine months after I had seen the film. And it was not long after I saw STAR TREK BEYOND. That sort of jammed my space-opera circuits in my memory in a way that seeing a non-space- opera like CITIZEN KANE probably would not have. I could have sent him my official published review after seeing FORCE AWAKENS, but what fun would that have been? I wanted to see the film again and give you some fresh comments. I will republish the earlier review later in this mail. Let me add to it some additional comments based on my second viewing.
My first impression is that the film borrows a lot from the 1977 STAR WARS. That was the complaint most critics had. But that might have been part of the point. There is a repetition, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider the following. Here is a question for you. Which GODFATHER film am I describing?
"Michael Corleone is trying to stay within the law. But then somebody does something terrible to his family. He thinks he knows who the culprit is and wants to move against him. The peacemaker of the mob tries to convince him that this is a bad idea but he goes ahead anyway. He soon realizes this was a mistake. The real villain was the person who was behind his victim. But who is that? It turns out to be the peacemaker. Michael calls up all his forces and kills everyone who is giving him trouble in one big bloodbath. Michael, more powerful than ever, is left to ponder the meaning of his action."
So which GODFATHER film was that? It is hard to tell. That is a fairly complete plot that fits all three GODFATHER films. The STAR WARS series is nowhere near as repetitive. Like the GODFATHER films STAR WARS repeats itself.
That said it would have been better if they could have had more that was new. There were lots of little bits that are repetitions from the first film. In the first film there was a giant skeleton in the background in the desert that the principles don't even comment on. In this one there was a giant wrecked spacecraft that seems to have crashed. We see it in the background just like the skeleton in the first film. I don't remember them all but there were a bunch of little homages to the 1977 film.
One thing in general I really dislike is an obvious failure of imagination in the writing. In the 1977 film the real threat is from the Deathstar, a really, really big spherical flying weapons platform that the good guys blow up. In 1983's STAR WARS: THE RETURN OF THE JEDI the threat is an EVEN BIGGER (!) spherical flying platform that the good guys blow up. In the new film the threat is an EVEN BIGGER STILL (!) humongous spherical platform that the good guys blow up. You can tell where this is going. The fact that they cannot bring a more original threat than just another Deathstar is a failure of imagination.
So in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS a film overflowing with imagination, there are some notable gaps in imagination. Nonetheless I am sort of now amused seeing the series the chronicles of one family. Nearly everyone important is now related to someone else in the story. Darth Vader and Padme Migdala are the parents of Luke and Leia. Leia married Han Solo and they give birth to Lylo Ren. Now Rey has the Force so is probably glommed on somewhere on the family tree. I find STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS spotty, but it is kind of fun.
Anyway, I felt a little embarrassed that when asked I could not say much about FORCE AWAKENS at the dinner. After all I had even reviewed the film so when I got a chance to see the film again I wanted to respond about the film to you. I suspect you were the only attendee that evening who was interested in discussing science fiction.
Anyway, when it is not trying too hard to be funny I generally enjoy the STAR WARS series.
My January 2016 review is reprinted later in this issue. [-mrl]
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Jake's grandfather, thought to be suffering from dementia, tells the most fantastic stories of his fighting of monsters during WWII from an island off Wales. These stories lead Jake to the island and there he holds the balance of power in a war between children with strange special powers and supernatural villains. The plot is surprisingly complex and frequently obscure, but visually the film is imaginative. Tim Burton directs a screenplay by Jane Goldman, based on the young adult novel by Ransom Riggs. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Jake grew up on his grandfather Abe's stories of fighting monsters when the old man was posted off the coast of Wales during the Second World War. Then Abe (Terrence Stamp) is killed with his last words being a cryptic message for Jake. The boy has a hard time convincing his parents to let him go, with his father, to his grandfather's island. The story has started slowly and here is picking up speed until a fast-paced fight. (Well, without fights what is the point of having characters with super powers?)
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN could well have started as a different approach to the team-of-superheroes sort of story with still the feel of a young reader's taste. The heroes here (we don't call them mutants) have different sorts of powers. One controls bees that seem to live inside him; one has power over air (including incredible lungs); one is a little closer to the Marvel- style hero, being invisible; one has super strength; and yet another has the power to make vegetables grow fast. The twins can--no, that would be telling. Then there is Jake (played by Asa Butterfield). He is an outsider and, he does not seem to have any powers at all. All are loomed over by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who is a shape-changer and who can be neither as innocent as she seems nor as sinister as she appears.
Beginning with his short film "Vincent" (1982), Tim Burton has frequently used a particular visual style. Do not ask me to describe it, but I know it when I see it. That style is conspicuously absent from the new film. One thing we do see is some stylistic allusions to other fantasy filmmakers. The conjunction of school yards and bombs from Guillermo del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE makes itself noticed. Creatures with long spindly legs from THE DARK CRYSTAL do to. At toward the end we get a very nice reference to a famous sequence from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
The general look and feel of the film changes as we go from one setting to the next. That turns off some parents, but the kids seem to like it. The textures of the visuals change rapidly with the settings. We go through different worlds as we go from suburban Florida, to a Welsh island, to a gardened country house. By the end of the film we are in a battle on an amusement pier in Liverpool. Meanwhile the film is playing with time and the basic physics of the universe.
Some of the images may be inappropriate for the younger crowd. There is one scene that once thought of, Burton must have felt compelled to shoot, in which there is a feast of eyeballs. This is one of director Tim Burton's better films since he lost the writing talents of Caroline Thompson, who had humanized his exercises in weird visuals, good though some were. Burton has a first class cast including Samuel Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, and Allison Janney. It does not have the same sort of delights as THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but it has its own charm. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1935859/combined
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-rt-peregrine
THE END OF ALL THINGS by John Scalzi (copyright 2015, Tor, $8.99, 385pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-7610-7) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
THE END OF ALL THINGS is the sixth, and presumably, but not necessarily (would be my guess), the last book in the very popular "Old Man's War" series. The series dates back to the publication of the original OLD MAN'S WAR back in 2005, and across the eleven years and five additional books that have followed Scalzi has developed a large audience for these books; arguably, they are the most popular of his works.
THE END OF ALL THINGS is a follow on to THE HUMAN DIVISION (and in fact, is a continuation and conclusion of the story arc that started in that novel), and like THE HUMAN DIVISION was published online in e-book format. While the prior book comprised thirteen short stories, THE END OF ALL THINGS was released individually as four novellas, one per week in June of 2015. Unlike THE HUMAN DIVISION, which I read in installments, I read THE END OF ALL THINGS in one shot as a paperback. While I can see the episodic elements in it, I believe that reading it all at once is the better way to go.
So, to recap: the Earth and the Colonial Union are at odds with each other after the destruction of Earth Station. As a result, the Colonial Defense Forces are running out of troops to protect their colonies (as a reminder, the CDF got their troops from Earth in the form of aging and infirmed humans--thus the title OLD MAN'S War). Also sitting out there is a coalition of alien governments called the Conclave, and either the CU nor the peoples of Earth have a real good relationship with them. And now we have a new entity called the Equilibrium, which is intent on bringing about the destruction of the CU, the Conclave, and the people of Earth.
We first learn about the Equilibrium in the first novella, entitled "The Life of the Mind", in which third pilot of the Chandler Rafe Daquin has his brain removed from his body and placed in a box, from which he will pilot the ship for the Equilibrium. The carrot is that he will get his body back once he successfully completes his mission. Daquin knows better, and his captors should have known better as well. Score one for the good guys--whoever they are--as the existence of the Equilibrium becomes public and a traitor is revealed.
"This Hollow Union", the second novella, goes deep into the political arena of the Conclave. The Conclave is concerned about its future--in fact, the fear is that the Conclave is on the verge of collapse. The story is told from the perspective of "the second most powerful person in the known universe", Hafte Sorvalh, as she works behind the scenes to protect the Conclave and her boss, General Tarsem Gau. It starts out with Sorvalh going from meeting to meeting, grinding the gears of the machine, trying to get to the bottom of things. The story does take an unexpected and powerful turn at the end, an end that has Sorvalh set up for greater things.
The next episode is "Can Long Endure", follows a platoon of the CDF going from uprising to uprising, rebellion to rebellion, trying to keep peace within the Colonial Union as the CU continues to show signs of tearing itself apart. It seems like a nonsensical set of assignments, with no real rhyme or reason, which eventually ends in the platoon suffering a dramatic loss of life. In the end, the question that comes to the front is whether all this is really worth the effort, and we see one leader's way of dealing with it.
The final novella, "To Stand Or Fall", bring the story of THE END OF ALL THINGS to a somewhat expected, but not necessarily exciting conclusion. We learn about the real motives of the Equilibrium, we see a brewing conflict between the Colonial Union and the Conclave and, eventually, "the end of all things".
It's clear that Scalzi is very comfortable writing in the "Old Man's War" universe, and revisiting his favorite characters for him must be like visiting with old friends and family in the evening next to a warm fire with a glass of his favorite beverage. And it is much the same for the reader. We settle in with this universe, with these characters, and these situations, and it's like seeing an old friend after a few years. And, as expected, Scalzi's writing is sharp, the dialog is witty, and he moves the story deftly along at a nice pace that keeps the reader interested from the first page to the last.
It may not be the best book in the "Old Man's War" universe, but THE END OF ALL THINGS is a fine addition to the series and a fine way to end all things. [-jak]
THE VALUE OF THE MOON: HOW TO EXPLORE, LIVE, AND PROSPER IN SPACE USING THE MOON'S RESOURCES by Paul D. Spudis (book review by Greg Frederick):
The author wrote this book to help convince the reader about the best way to utilize cislunar space. That is the volume of space that is between the Earth and the Moon. He believes that using the Moon's valuable resources will enable humans to efficiently and effectively move off the Earth into this region of space and aid us in deep space missions as well. The Moon has water, aluminum, gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten, rare earth metals and helium-3. Helium-3 can provide nuclear power without radioactive waste in a functioning fusion reactor. But water is the most useful resource on the Moon that we can use immediately. Using water ice located in craters at the Moon's poles we can get hydrogen and oxygen and both in liquid form are great ingredients for rocket fuel. The water ice can be disassociated using the near constant solar power also located at the Moon's poles. Of course, water can be used by astronauts for drinking, growing plants, and a tank of water is a very good radiation shield. The oxygen is needed for astronauts to breathe too.
The conversion of water into rocket fuel would allow for refueling a lunar lander and refueling space craft at future fuel depots which could be created at the Lagrangian points in cislunar space or orbits near the Earth or Moon. These fuel depots would allow space craft built in space to be refueled for further missions in deep space too. Instead of launching a rocket from Earth's deep gravity well with all of that rocket fuel for its entire mission only the fuel needed to get parts of a deep space craft would be launched. Therefore smaller rockets are needed instead of a heavy lift rocket similar to the Saturn 5. The space vehicle would be assembled in Earth orbit and refueled in orbit. Another interesting issue is the source of rare Earth metals. Currently most rare Earth metals are found in China and they are essential in creating modern electronics; the Moon has an abundant amount of these rare Earth metals too. The Moon is a great place to test equipment and technology needed for an eventual mission to Mars. The Moon is only 3 days travel from the Earth and there is only a few seconds of time delay in radio communications with Earth too. So, if something does go wrong help is not far away.
This book is a good source of information about how we can realistically enter a new age in human space exploration. [-gf]
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This is a reprint to go with my comments above.]
CAPSULE: After about a decade we have a new "Star Wars" episode. The story is really about the search for Skywalker, a goal that does not seem particularly inspiring. As always in a "Star Wars" film the visuals are impressive, but the narrative is not as compelling as was the story of Darth Vader. The only new character of some interest is a woman named Rey, the new film's equivalent of Luke Skywalker. There seems to be more material borrowed from the first six films than there is that is new. But as long as the viewer does not need to contend with Jar-Jar Binks or a pod race, any Star Wars film delivers more than a ticket's worth of entertainment. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10. Warning: minor spoilers
The release of the new "Star Wars" film has become one of the major cinematic events of the year. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is not the most artistic film it could have been and it does not have the most moving story. It is neither good science nor good science fiction. But it is highly watchable and it will make a lot of money as an international film with avid (not to say rabid) fans around the world.
It has been about thirty (Earth?) years since the action in RETURN OF THE JEDI and Luke Skywalker, who disappeared years ago, is slipping from war hero into legend. Meanwhile the Galactic Empire is falling into the hands of a Fascist military/political party called the First Order. To maintain their power they have to capture Skywalker, but nobody seems to know where he is. There is a map to his whereabouts, but as so often happens in fiction the map is in pieces and whoever collects the pieces will have a full map. Great pilot Poe (played by the same Oscar Isaac who was in EX MACHINA) has instructions to find a missing piece. This piece is hidden in a droid, of all places. (Now why does that sound so familiar?) Poe is captured by the First Order storm troops where he meets a trooper whom the dubs Finn (played by John Boyega). Finn wants to change sides to be on the side of the good guys. Poe and Finn are separated and Finn joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) a very highly talented scavenger.
J. J. Abrams directs a screenplay by himself, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, who are obviously fans of the series. They borrow ideas freely from the original. For example, the super weapon the villains have is a Deathstar just as in chapters 4 and 6. But it is not an old fashioned Deathstar. This Deathstar is much bigger. So now three of the seven chapters have new Deathstars needing to be disarmed seconds from disaster. Despite the writers' efforts to tie this film to the previous six "Star Wars" chapters that were made earlier, this does not really feel like the Star Wars Universe, but one somehow it is reduced in scale.
We have the five main characters from chapters four through six written into the script. But they do little to advance the plot. One is a father who gets no opportunity to be fatherly and another is a MacGuffin. Princess Leia looks like her face was replaced by that same doctor who replaced Luke's hand.
The villain of the piece is a sort of self-styled Darth Vader down to wearing a similar suit. What makes that strange is that Darth Vader put on the suit as a sort of portable, wearable iron lung. There is no reason to have such a suit if our villain has healthy lungs. But perhaps he thinks a suit is imposing. As far as acting Daisy Ridley, playing Rey, is a more dynamic female lead than Carrie Fisher was in 1977, perhaps because Rey is a better-written character.
If you go to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS looking for something to criticize, you will find more than enough in this "Star Wars" chapter. If you want to find stuff to enjoy, there is plenty of that here too. Overall, I would rate the new Star Wars film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Since this movie has done so spectacularly well in box-office business and since STAR WARS is a story told in trilogies, I think we can be assured that more to this story is coming from Disney.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/combined
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-rt-star-wars-vii
Retrospective Hugo Awards (letter of comment by John Hertz):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Retro Hugos in the 07/08/16, 07/15/16, and 07/22/16 issues (and others) of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:
The year 1940 was certainly a year of achievement for Heinlein. Six solid works on the Retrospective Hugo ballot in three categories, including the winner in best Novella and Best Novelette. As the nominations remind us, he also produced "By His Bootstraps", "Universe" (novellas), and "Let There Be Light" (short story). This was his *second year* of publication.
I could say a lot about things I think could have and should have reached the ballot--for example, not only "Bootstraps", but Asimov's "Nightfall"--but that's a long discussion, and fruitless without detailed analysis.
It was a fine moment when Van Vogt's granddaughter Charlene Piper, having driven 25 hours from Northern Idaho, entered the hall just in time to hear SLAN had won Best Novel, and to walk onstage and accept, amid cheers. She told me this was not her first Worldcon, but her fourth. [-jh]
THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS (letter of comment by John Hertz):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS in the 06/03/16 through 07/08/16 issues of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:
I just read Latham & Matthews COMPANION (1971) to the DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS, v. 10 in their 11-volume edition (v. 11 is the Index; after three centuries the first complete edition, masterly and definitive), and though of you. Perhaps you will compare your remarks with mine (VANAMONDE 606). I saw the same annoying and even reprehensible points as you (to show the importance of keeping an editor's eye open, the phrase was almost "I saw the annoying and even reprehensible things you did"). I thought the DIARY earned observation of its merits.
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a civilian officer of the British Navy. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society who besides science loved music. He saw the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration of Charles II, the failure of James II, and the Glorious Revolution; he saw the Great Plague, the Great Fire, and (what a herald of 1688!) war with the Dutch. "Though he made money out of his places he never allowed bad work to be done for the navy if he could help it ... a hard worker ... a capacity for acts of kindness and generosity," ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA v. 17 p. 500 14th ed. 1929). The diary he kept in 1660- 1669 we after the centuries know for great literature. "If there is ... a book which can be called 'unique' with strict propriety, it is this.... by virtue of these qualities ... found ... nowhere else in combination. It was secret; it was full; and it was honest." Yet these, like his position and even his character, are resources. They could make the DIARY priceless, but not art. The BRITANNICA writers Hannay and Tanner do touch it: "A human document of amazing vitality." He had an eye for the telling detail, we only feel he wrote "whatever he saw, heard, felt or imagined", when in truth, miraculously, he perceived what to put in. His three thousand pages, pithy and sharp, often bright and quick, are unforgettable, and too short."[-jh]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
CROSSTALK by Connie Willis (ISBN 978-0-345-54067-6) is not a "rollicking send-up," at least in my opinion. Oh, there are bits of humor, but the stakes are too high to allow the reader to read this as a madcap comedy. The plot centers around a procedure that apparently stimulates telepathic abilities, but only in some people, and there are, as one character puts it, UIC, or "unintended consequences." One problem I had was that some of the things that seem to be intended as surprises were not, and others seemed more major contrivances or even dei ex machinis than anything else.
It was not a *bad* book (after all, it is Connie Willis), but there was nothing exceptional about it.
YOU CAN LOOK IT UP: THE REFERENCE SHELF FROM ANCIENT BABYLON TO WIKIPEDIA by Jack Lynch (ISBN 978-0-8027-7752-2) has 25 chapters, arranged chronologically, each discussing two paired reference works, and 24 interstitial essays. On the whole the interstitials are more interesting than the actual chapters, covering such topic as the rise (and fall) of alphabetical order, the invention of the codex, methods of organizing books, and so on. Given the chapters are chronological starting with Hammurabi, they cover a lot of ancient and medieval works that frankly are not very interesting to most people today, while the topical interstitials cover subjects that still affect us. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: In a very real sense, people who read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. --S. I. Hayakawa -- authorTweet
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