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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/30/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 27, Whole Number 1943
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
January 12: 12:01PM (1990) and 12:01 (1993) and 12:01 (short story by Richard Lupoff, F&SF December 1973), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM January 13: THE IMITATION GAME, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 12N 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 February 9: GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) and "Doubled and Redoubled" (short story by Malcolm Jameson), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM February 10: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for January (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, we are just about ready to close the book on 2016. Everybody is saying how fast the year went by. Actually I read an article that said what makes an interval of time feel like it went by fast is the number of moments in your memory. If you have a lot of moments that you can distinguish from one another in your memory the interval of time will seem proportionally long in your memory. If you go through the same routine every day and the days are so much alike you cannot remember which one was which, you will remember time as having gone very fast. If you go on a vacation very often the first day will be in your memory the longest. Toward the end of the trip you might find the days seem to be speeding up. For me 2016 went by very quickly so that says something about my daily routine. You may remember lot details early in a film better than you remember ones later.
I am going to recommend a film not because it is a good film. Actually it is a very mediocre science fiction movie. But it is a fascinating artifact. The film is THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957). Just what the film is qualifies the film is strange. It is a low-budget black-and-white sequel to the much higher budget FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956). It takes place in the near future. That should make you wonder how a film set in the near future could be a sequel to a film that takes place much further forward in time. (Hint: they do it sort of like the Planet of the Apes films did it. They assume time travel.) The script is downright juvenile. So why is this film so worth seeing? Well, there are two reasons. This was the second film to have featured FORBIDDEN PLANET's Robby the Robot. And it is not just a film using the same suit and even Marvin Miller's voice again. This is supposedly the selfsame robot as was in FORBIDDEN PLANET. But even that would not make this an interesting film.
What is really interesting about THE INVISIBLE BOY is that it extrapolates out what computer science would be like in the near future and darn if they do not get it mostly right as no other film nearly that film's age ever did.
The film features a super computer that has just about all human knowledge if you just ask it a question. I have something like that on my desk. You can ask the computer a spoken question in English and it will get you the answer spoken out loud. We can do that now. That information is constantly being updated and revised. Yup, we do that. We get to the current information by going on the Internet. The villain of the piece is the Master Computer. Sadly this great computer has evil plans to get its masters power. Connect Robby to the Master Computer and it takes over Robby. Even today you have to be careful where your computer connects. There is malware and spyware out there.
The scientist in the film finds out his great master computer is being used against him. The scientist asks the computer, "Who am I speaking to?" In other words, "who has broken into the computer and is controlling it?" This sort of person would one day come to be known as a "hacker," or more accurately a "cracker." The scientist protects his information with "a secret numerical combination" that only the scientist knows." It sounded impressive then and a great idea. Today that is what is known as a password. And we all have too many of them for comfort.
Now you could say that these are all reasonable extrapolations of what was known about computers in 1957. Perhaps that is true. But I would be impressed if someone could point to a 1950s film that had so much computer science and got so much of it right or very nearly right.
THE INVISIBLE BOY will play on TCM on Wednesday, January 11, at 6:30 AM. TCM will continue with vintage science fiction films until 7:30 PM that day. The lineup will be:
6:30 AM THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957) 8:15 AM FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) 10:00 AM THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) 11:45 AM 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) 2:15 PM SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956) 3:45 PM COUNTDOWN (1968) 5:45 PM THE GREEN SLIME (1969)
Best film of the month? Let me go with THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940), based on John Steinbeck's novel of the life of a family of Okies during the dust bowl years. That runs Tuesday, January 3, at 2:15 AM.
ALIEN MORNING by Rick Wilber (copyright 2016, TOR, $25.99, 300pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-3290-5) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
First contact stories have been a part of science fiction storytelling for a very long time. A subset, the alien invasion story, seems to be the most prevalent, but some of the best have nothing to do with invasions at all. One of the best first contact stories is in theaters right now in the form of the movie Arrival, based on "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang (As an aside, Arrival is a really terrific movie. I highly recommend it, and I expect to see it on the final Hugo ballot in 2017). Another worthy entry into the first contact category is ALIEN MORNING, by Rick Wilber.
In the near future, we meet Peter Holman. Peter is a former European league basketball player, washed up because of a knee injury he suffered during a game. His career over, Peter heads back to the U.S. and becomes an early adopter of a technology called sweepcasting, which allows the user to convey and share his or her experiences in a multisensory way. Peter is trying to get in on the ground floor, looking for a career as a sweepcaster, making money by selling and sharing his experiences to the world at large. It's a tough way to make a living, as the technology is new and not many people have the equipment to receive sweepcasts. Events can be shared live, or can be recorded and edited for later broadcast.
Peter also has a personal technological companion called myBob. myBob keeps track of everything going on in Peter's life--business meetings, doctor appointments, dates, you name it. Interestingly enough, it also has the ability to control Peter's sweepcasting equipment (an essential point that becomes useful as the novel unfolds).
With all this in mind, Peter happens to be at the right place and the right time to witness and record the arrival of the alien S'hudonni. The S'hudonni are interested in trade goods from earth, and in exchange will provide advanced science and technology. While this particular trope has been used dozens, if not hundreds of times in the past, it is used effectively here to open the door to what's really going on behind the scenes with the S'hudonni.
Stepping back from the S'hudonni for a moment, another aspect of Peter's situation that plays a very important role in the story is his family history and dynamics. Peter's brother Tom is a successful scientist, who is engaged to Heather Newsome. Peter's sister Kait is trying to get her life straightened out, living on the west coast with her spouse after wasting her youth on drugs. Peter's father is a pediatrician that was not always around the family due to his work, and who is disappointed in Peter because he took up a basketball career instead of going into a more respectable profession. Peter has been sweepcasting a phony affair with B-list actress Chloe Cary in an effort to raise the profiles of both Chloe and his sweepcasting career. In the middle of it all, Peter falls hard for Heather which angers Tom and sets off some events later in the book that could prove to be catastrophic. As for Heather--well, Peter really doesn't know what he's gotten himself into. Suffice it to say that there is more than one family squabble going on here, and Peter just happens to be in the middle of both of them.
And just who is the mysterious Marina?
There is a lot going on in this novel, and Wilber deftly handles both the first contact story and the family issues that play an important part of the novel. Peter is quite a complex character, something one wouldn't expect from a professional athlete. Peter loves literature, and studied it in college. He loves art, which he discovered while bouncing around Europe playing basketball (and which allowed him to meet the aforementioned Marina). He loves his family, no matter how dysfunctional it is. And I think this character development, not only of Peter, but of Tom and Kait, is the true strength of ALIEN MORNING. Without those characters being who they are and what they were, this is nothing more than a bland story of some aliens showing up and looking for stuff. Wilber has woven these well-written characters into the fabric of the story to the point that the reader can't imagine the story being told without them.
As far as the alien side of the story, well, that's pretty good too. There are always family arguments, whether it be between humans or between aliens. The novel takes us from the Florida to California to Ireland. There are beautiful countrysides, nights on the beach, old Irish mansions, and everything in between. Wilber, through the sweepcasting technology, dabbles in (not so) futuristic media, an area that he's an expert in. This is truly a well- written novel.
It's also the first book of a trilogy, the second of which I believe will be entitled ALIEN DAY. If it's anything like ALIEN MORNING, it will be something to look forward to. -[jak]
Fake News (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's comments on fake news in the 12/23/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
I was very interested to read your "fake news" piece.
One interesting point here is that it is more difficult to libel a public official. By that I mean that the Supreme Court's ruled (in Times v. Sullivan) that there's essentially a higher bar to be used to evaluate if someone's statements about an elected official are defamatory of libelous. The term of art is "actual malice" and the standard is that if someone knew that a statement was false or acted with "reckless disregard for its truth or falsity".
I wonder if the actions of the Fake News King could be considered to be acting with actual malice or with reckless disregard? I wonder if it is harder to legislate against/prosecute fake news?
I think it is pretty clear that fake news/clickbait influenced the election ... though that's as much a decline in traditional journalism, critical thinking and, um, actual reading as anything else. [-gwr]
Back on November 1 fake news was considered something more than an amusement and something less than a truly major influence in the voting. I think right now fake news is at least being taken seriously as a threat to our legal system. At least I would hope so. Opposition likely would almost entirely be coming from factions left of center, at least that would be my guess. I don't know what the line is between legal free speech and serious fraud, but I suspect that that will be getting a close examination. I suspect that the problem will not be really fixed while the conservatives hang on to the power they have. But there should be enough people angry to have something done about the problem.
The other issue that should have people worried right now is the issue of hacking of election results for political. And the people who are most capable of doing it are going to be in high demand. [-mrl]
Sherlock Holmes Pastiches (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Sherlock Holmes pastiches in the 12/23/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I feel like I said this somewhere recently. If it was here, my apologies for the repetition. Anyway, 'Ellery Queen' made a collection of Holmes pastiches, parodies, and burlesques some time back called The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. The only problem was that the Doyle estate was still fiercely guarding their cash cow, and put the kibosh on the book, which was already in print. In the 70s, it was a treasured item, and booksellers wanted about fifty hard-earned bucks for any copy they had for sale, so I never got one.
Years later, Doyle is finally dead enough that his heirs are no longer powerful, and the book is available at Archive.org:
and downloadable in a variety of formats. Can it be that all the stories within are also out of copyright? I thought Archive was careful about that stuff, but I don't know.
In my experience, their OCR is horrid, so it's best to go with the PDF page facsimiles. Some of these are clever and enjoyable, and then there are the rest. Take it with a grain of salt. What the hell! It's free! [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
LITERARY WONDERLANDS: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREATEST FICTIONAL WORLDS EVER CREATED edited by Laura Miller (ISBN 978-0-316-31638-5) sounds like a look at the *geography* of fictional worlds, sort of like Alberto Manguel's DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES. It isn't. The "worlds" in this case are the conceptual worlds, e.g., THE TIME MACHINE's division of humanity into Morlocks and Eloi through evolution, or the meta-fictional world of THE EYRE AFFAIR. As such, there is little to distinguish the text from many other books or articles about these works. While nicely produced and illustrated, or perhaps because it is nicely produced and illustrated, it is more a coffee table book than a true reference work.
(What I would love to see is a geographical map and analysis of China Mieville's THE CITY & THE CITY. It's not very likely, though.)
HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly (ISBN 978-0-06-23659-6) is a book about the African-American women who worked at NACA/NASA as "computors" before the introduction of computers, and then after as programmers and engineers. The film based on it opens this month, and it takes quite a few liberties. Not only are the three main white characters fictional--though presumably reflecting some real people's characteristics--but some of the events involving Katherine Johnson in the film actually happened to other people in real life. (In particular, the rest room incident involved Mary Jackson rather than Johnson.)
The fictional white characters are particularly troubling. Kevin Costner has a very dramatic moment as Al Harrison--but it never happened and Al Harrison did not exist. Jim Parsons is obnoxious as Paul Stafford, and I suppose represents all the white male engineers who had those prejudiced attitudes, but he never existed either. And Kirsten Dunst's character again is possibly an amalgam, with a very predictable arc. The challenges were all real, and consolidating most of the dramatic events of the story onto Johnson made cinematic sense, as did making the white characters archetypes. (After all, the film is not about them.) But it would be a mistake to take everything in the film as gospel.
On the other hand, the book is presumably accurate. However, the problem is that the book is less engaging, possibly because Shetterly spends a lot of time on what may be interesting to a historian, but less so to the general reader: the history behind the various housing developments (all segregated, of course), the history of how Virginia's Prince Edward County closed its public schools for five years rather than integrate, and so on. There is also a lot about the history of the aeronautics and space programs which is not directly connected to the eponymous women. All this makes for a narrative that jumps around a lot, from scientific and mathematical explanations of air resistance to the psychological effects of the Jim Crow South to the effects of McCarthyism on the engineering program. There is a lot of valuable material here; I just wish it had been organized better. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If one tells the truth, then sooner or later one will be found out. -- Oscar WildeTweet
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