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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/10/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 33, Whole Number 1949
Table of Contents
Unfinished Business (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Rumor has it that after King Kong was removed from Skull Island the natives rebuilt and extended the wall. But, sadly, they are still waiting for the dinosaurs to pay for it. [-mrl]
"On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi!" by William Tenn:
If you want to hear Wiliam Tenn (a.k.a. Philip Klass) reading his own story, you can find it courtesy of Tablet Magazine at http://tinyurl.com/void-venus-rabbi, which also has the full text.
The Ascent of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was in junior high school and high school when THE LORD OF THE RINGS in book form was just getting popular in the United States. People who were fond of fantasy, including me, were attracted to it. This was a fantasy, but it was also a serious piece of writing created by an Oxford Don no less. By the end of the 1960s THE LORD OF THE RINGS was a publishing phenomenon. This somewhat spited by teachers who still saw it as being a little silly and not really literature.
The popularity continued to increase, in spite of a snobbish reaction on the part of some mainstream critics. Meanwhile there were artists like the Hildebrandt Brothers who seemed to specialize in fantasy art done in a realistic style. They and other artists did THE LORD OF THE RINGS calendars and other art. But few effectively caught the feel one got from the original writing.
Now to anti-fantasy bigots this all looked hokey. A classmate of mine brought to English class one of THE LORD OF THE RINGS books to get approval to read it for a book report. Our English teacher raged in front of the class that he was trying to get us to read real literature and there is no real literature about fairy tale creatures like gnomes and fairies. If he wanted to read about gnomes and dragons he should be reading a comic book. (I am not sure what my teacher would have thought of the way comic book stories have taken up such a large share of American cinema.)
In spite of disinterest from so much of the mainstream, Tolkien's following continued to expand and grow. But common wisdom was that THE LORD OF THE RINGS was just too much epic story to be adapted to the screen and was just too big for a motion picture. And when it was attempted to make the stories into film, the results were painfully off-tune.
Counter-culture animator Ralph Bakshi announced he would adapt the books to the screen in animation. He started but lost interest and energy for the project early on and the film he created hardly was worth seeing on its own, much less was one that did justice to the books, now modern classics. Sadly, Bakshi got tired of doing the artwork and made extensive use of rotoscoping to make the film in the quickest, cheapest way possible. He got to about the midpoint of the story and called it quits barely animating over the rotoscope raw footage he had.
Children's program animators Rankin and Bass had formerly made a short animated version of THE HOBBIT. They adapted the second half of the novel into a 98-minute cartoon. It had all been adapted between Bakshi and Rankin and Bass, but nobody was fooled into thinking what had been did any justice to the book they loved.
And the mainstream still thought the book was kind of silly.
Then Peter Jackson who had some experience making minor fantasy films was engaged by New Line Cinema to make a giant adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I think the budget for the film, twelve hours in length in its longest version, was in the range between a quarter and a third of a billion dollars. It was made in New Zealand with incredible background scenery and even more incredible imagery. Jackson's film had arguably as beautiful a visualization of the story as any of the illustrators had done before him. It was a huge success. And it deserved to be. One giant story over three films, it (or rather the third film) eventually won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. Clearly there was something here that was formidable. In spite of the nay-sayers, THE LORD OF THE RINGS had proven itself a major social phenomenon.
It was an inspiration. Undoubtedly because of the way explored by THE LORD OF THE RINGS HBO green-lit their project of adapting George R. R. Martin's even more massive fantasy A GAME OF THRONES. And then look at A GAME OF THRONES with its immense cast of well- developed characters, its own visual imagery, its willingness to kill off major characters to leave the viewer in suspense. And look at THE LORD OF THE RINGS with its Hobbit villages, its broad acting styles and glued on beards and its storybook plotting (at the climax Gollum trips and falls to his death???), and I guess THE LORD OF THE RINGS really does look kind of silly and tacky and downright childish by comparison. My high school teacher was right after all.
Oh, well. So it goes. [-mrl]
Autism (comments by David Rubin):
[This originally appeared on "David's Blog" in 2013.]
It used to be really rare, then it became as common as one in eighty-eight. People have theorized why it's growing. I have my own theory.
First, let me explain what autism is. Autism, for those of you who don't know, is a form of developmental disability, characterized by an inability to deal with other human beings. It's usually associated with intellectual limitations, but there's a subset of autistics that often have superior intelligence. We are called Aspies, short for Asperger syndrome. We have our limitations, but many of us think it's worth it and value our condition. We object to those of you NT's (neuro-typicals) who want to cure us. I, myself, wear a shirt saying my autism make me smarter than you. We also can be rather obsessive over our particular interests. Nobody sweats the details like us, even if it's just a bus schedule.
A decade ago Thorkil Sonne, a telecommunications executive living in Ringsted, Denmark, as terrified about what the future might hold for his 7-year-old autistic son, Lars. But rather than give in to despair, the middle-aged father started a company, Specialisterne (ASpecialists@ in Danish), which helps high-functioning adults with autistic-spectrum disorders (ASDs) find employment. Today business is booming. Sonne oversees branches in a fourteen countries, including Germany, England, and Spain, and is funneling workers to such IT giants as SAP. Now he has even moved to Delaware to establish a foothold in America.
We object to those of you NT's (neuro-typicals) who want to cure us. I, myself, wear a shirt saying my autism make me smarter than you. We also can be rather obsessive over our particular interests.
My theory? I think it's nature taking its course. It's evolution in action! The latest research says we seem to be caused by two mutations. There are certain companies, such as my own, that have taken advantage of our superior abilities and will only hire those of us with our special mutations.
Continuing in this vein, I figure it's just a matter of time before the government tries to register and weaponize us and tries to control us. Resisters will be chased by giant robots and men in black.
I think I read too many comic books. That's my autistic obsession. [-dr]
THE DISPATCHER by John Scalzi (copyright 2016, Audible Studios, 2 Hours 19 Minutes, ASIN B01KKPH1NI, narrated by Zachary Quinto) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audio book review by Joe Karpierz):
The novella has been called the ideal story length for science fiction. It's become very popular in recent years with both authors and readers. Novellas certainly don't take as much time to write as a full-length novel does, and there are many markets for writer to sell the novella to. Readers love them because they are not huge doorstops that consume entire lives and yet satisfy because there's enough room for a bit of world building, characterization, and plot development. John Scalzi has dabbled in the novella form in the past with the outstanding "The God Engines". He returned to the form with 2016's "The Dispatcher", which was originally released as a free audio book narrated by Zachary Quinto, the actor behind Skylar in the television series "Heroes" and Mr. Spock in the "Star Trek" movie reboot (and will be released as a physical book later this year).
In the not too distant future, it is very difficult to commit murder. The victim pops out of existence and reappears in his or her home, naked and alive, in the condition he or she was a few hours before the act was committed. Nothing is known about how it happens, just that it does.
And it has created a brand new job, the Dispatcher. Dispatchers are licensed, bonded operatives who are present in times and places where people could die--say as a result of a risky operation, or getting hit by a car--to kill the person who is about to die so they get another chance at life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, and a good one. He has never failed at a Dispatch (there is a 1 in 1000 chance the Dispatched person will remain dead), and is in demand at hospitals as well as for private jobs where a person may be on their deathbed. One of Tony's friend's, a fellow Dispatcher, has gone missing in an apparent kidnapping, and Valdez must race against the clock to find him before he dies irrevocably.
In "The Dispatcher", John Scalzi has done a terrific job in fleshing out the occupation of Dispatcher. We discover that the role of Dispatcher is not always that of the good guy, that there's a good side of the street as well as a bad side of the street when taking private jobs. Tony's friend's wife accuses Tony of getting her husband in trouble, since back in the day Tony would get him the wrong kind of Dispatching job. It's really an interesting thought experiment to try to work out the morality of a Dispatcher- -how they feel about their job, how other's feel about their job, and the line they sometimes cross to earn a living.
Scalzi set the story in a place he knows well: Chicago. He went to school at the University of Chicago, and a portion of the story is told there. The places and streets he references are recognizable to me, which made it that much easier for me to slide into the story and stay involved in it. One might suggest that it's a bit trite to set this kind of story in Chicago, given its history, but it works well.
Zachary Quinto does an adequate job narrating the story. His ability to change voices between male and female is not the best, but it didn't throw me out of the narrative, so in that regard he was okay. On the other hand, his voice quality was hypnotic, and kept me focused on the story no matter what my situation was when I was listening (typically in a car going somewhere driving in Chicago area traffic). It wasn't bad, and it wasn't outstanding. It just was.
It wouldn't suprise me if Scalzi decided to write more "Dispatcher" stories. It's plain to see that there are a lot of possibilities to be explored using this fresh (to me) idea. I would certainly welcome them and hope he does write more. [-jak]
BABYLON'S ASHES by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2016, Orbit (print edition), Hachette Audio (audio book edition), 19 hours 58 minutes, ASIN B01D53NR9O, narrated by Jefferson Mays) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audio book review by Joe Karpierz):
Looking forward to a new novel in James S.A. Corey's Expanse space opera series has become an annual event in my household, and it was no different with the 6th and latest entry in the series, BABYLON'S ASHES. I might also point out that every time an announcement came out that the novel was delayed there was much anguish not only here at the homestead in Illinois but in Colorado as well with the other half of the Duel Fish Codices pair wailing loudly enough to be heard all the way back to Chicagoland (okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). The Expanse is that seemingly rare breed of action, heroism, great deeds, space battles, terrific characterization, and excellent writing that your high school English teacher, who may not approve of you reading science fiction, would be fond of.
When last we left the Expanse universe, the Earth was a planet in ruins. The Free Navy, led by Marco Inaros, has dumped rocks onto the planet's surface, destroying the planet's infrastructure and killing millions. His goal is to remake the political structure of the Solar System. He has begun attacking colony ships, those vessels heading for the ring gates to get out of the Solar System and start new lives of their own. He feels his people, the Belters, have been given the short straw all throughout their existence, and it's time to start a new regime with his people on the top of the food chain. The Earth and the Martian Navy are weak and without enough power to stop him--and pretty much everyone in the Solar System other than his own people want to stop him. Even some of his own people are turning against him. But Inaros is power mad and a megalomaniac who sees that he can do no wrong, that his plan is the best for his people. It *will* succeed.
Of course, this is where James Holden and the rest of the crew of the Rocinante come in. What's left of the Earth and Martian governments--let's face it, for all intents and purposes, this means my personal favorite character of the entire series, Chrisjen Avasarala--enlist the aid of the crew if the Roci to try to take over Medina Station out at the Rings to attempt to stop Inaros from wreaking even more havoc. And while they're out there, Holden and the crew discover something that is more sinister and worrying than the Free Navy (and thus setting things up for the next book, PERSEPOLIS RISING, presumably to be published later this year (and thus restarting the whole looking forward to a new Expanse novel thing I wrote earlier in this review).
BABYLON'S ASHES is quite a departure from the previous two books in the series, 2014's CIBOLA BURN and 2015's NEMESIS GAMES. CIBOLA BURN took us outside the Solar System for the first time, going to a colony planet where Holden has to play--what else?--peacemaker. NEMESIS GAMES brought us back to the Solar System, but more importantly had a very small cast of characters--basically the crew of the Rocinante itself--who have to deal with their own personal struggles while the Solar System collapses around them. In BABYLON'S ASHES, the whole world has already crumbled around them, and they are charged with trying to pick up the pieces. To tell this story requires a massive cast of characters, several subplots and storylines, and just a whole lot of juggling of things not only for the characters but the authors (Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, the writers who collectively make up James S.A. Corey) themselves.
I'm not completely convinced that Corey could have written this novel six years ago when the series began with LEVIATHAN WAKES. As the series has gone on, Corey has grown as a writer--which in part means, I'm sure, that Frank and Abraham have gotten the collaboration act down to an art form (or maybe a science--who knows?) and can feed off each other really well. LEVIATHAN WAKES was terrific because it was the type of story a lot of us have been waiting for, but BABYLON'S ASHES is that and a whole lot more. Corey manages to weave intricate plotting with characters that we care about in a feat of one handed juggling that is a sight to behold.
Yeah, I loved the book. Can you tell?
So, Jefferson Mays. I cannot possibly say enough about his narration of the book. I look forward to listening to these books almost as much as I do reading them in the physical form. His voice is perfect for the story. His voicing of Chrisjen Avasarala is the single, biggest reason I'm going to miss that character when the series ends, supposedly, after the ninth book. Every time a chapter that featured Avasarala began, a smile came across my face. Mays voicing her profane, no-holds-barred character is perfect.
The Expanse novels keep getting better. Trust me. We'll all be looking forward to the next book. [-jak]
ROAD TO THE WELL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Two friends, recently reunited after years apart, take a road trip to bury a dead woman, currently in the trunk of their car. On the way they come across some really unpleasant people and obstacles to overcome in their dubious mission. The plot moves slowly enough for ROAD TO THE WELL to qualify for mumblecore. Later it picks up a little. But writer/director Jon Cvack does not try to rush it. This is a thriller and it has some thrills, but it needed more, and they needed to be introduced earlier. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Frank, played by Laurence Fuller, is in a soul-crushing job somewhere around Las Angeles. Privately he hates his job and he hates his boss. Frank's boss has decided to send Frank to the unpleasant northern branch. Frank is not happy about the relocation but does not have the spine to refuse, even after he finds his wife and boss in bed together. Frank knows he wants some kind of change in his life. But arriving on the scene is Jack (Micah Parker), Frank's old friend. With a bit of a pep talk Frank is having sex with an attractive woman, Ruby. But wouldn't you know it, while Frank and Ruby are having sex in the parking lot someone kills Ruby. Frank would be an obvious suspect for the police.
Jack suggests that Frank bury the corpse himself somewhere up north, accepting Frank's relocation north. Then the woman will seem to have just disappeared, and nobody will look for Frank. Jack and Frank begin a macabre road trio north to take Frank to his new job, to see some old friends, and to dispose of the body. That is an absurd situation that might have been the basis for more humor. Somehow the humor of the situation is just not there. Writer/director Jon Cvack creates mostly unpleasant characters. That approach can work from some writers. Here it gets a little tiresome in the early parts of the film.
If the story was handled with a little more comic verve and perceptive observations of its characters, this ROAD TO THE WELL has the makings of a reasonable comedy. Instead it meanders and risks the viewers' frustration. The story takes too long to get going and then is short on action. It meanders along slow and a little overly talky. Eventually we get to know both Frank and Jack somewhat better, but that just makes the talk a little more interesting. It is no substitute for action or suspense. Laurence Fuller remains a sort of empty character throughout and we get the feeling that Jack is a bit shifty. But neither really pulls the viewer into their characters. On the other hand Marshall R. Teague takes acting honors as Dale, an intense character who is ex- military and whom the boys run up against late in the film.
If this film had been wound a little tighter, with maybe the dramatic tension of a BLOOD SIMPLE, the film would have worked. And as more of a comedy it might have worked. At times, mostly near the end, there are moments of tension, especially those involving Dale who plays cat and mouse with Frank and Jack. The North California scenery is a nice bonus and well shot. But the film could have stood to be more tersely edited rather than dragged out to 108 minutes. Somehow it needed more crackle. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4085066/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/road_to_the_well
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Kevin R's comments on ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in the 02/03/17 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I also played Jonathan Brewster in a local production of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, back around 1978 or 1979, though I'd rather have portrayed Dr. Einstein. I think what cinched the part was the convincing English accent a previous director had drilled into my head (for TEN LITTLE INDIANS). Our ingénue for the show, who I was supposed to terrify, was really into her part, and she got herself so worked up I was always afraid she would pick me up and throw me around the stage. [-kw]
My guess is that Jonathan must be a fun part to play--in a sadistic sort of way. But then I suspect both Raymond Massey and Boris Karloff probably both throttled back a little on the character. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am listening to the Great Courses lectures on "Masterworks of Early 20th Century Literature" and although the professor said that the lectures would be accessible even if the listener had not read the works being discussed, I decided to read at least the shorter works. The first was Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King", which suffers (for me, at least) by being impossible to read without picturing the 1975 film.
The next was HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad (ISBN 978-0-486- 26464-6). As preface to my comments, I will point out after an introductory lecture, there were two lectures about modernism, and particularly modernism (Impressionism and Post-Impressionism) in art. So I was particularly struck by all the references to the visual in HEART OF DARKNESS: by my count, 236 references to color, fog, smoke, dusk, "lurid glares", "unstained light", "gauzy and radiant fabric", "a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke", luminosity, gloom, brilliance, and (of course) darkness.
Some of this is to be expected for a book titled "Heart of Darkness", but there seems to be far more than can be explained by that--unless the title was the back of the effect of Conrad's concentrating on the visual rather than the cause. And of course the fact that after noticing the first few references I became far more conscious of them, meaning that they became even more noticeable and made every scene a painting in my mind.
One reference to color may not be clear to most readers today. Conrad refers to "a large shining map, marked with all the colours of a rainbow. There was a large amount of red--good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and on the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beer." It turns out that at the time Conrad was writing, maps tended to use standard colors: red for English colonies, blue for French, green for Italian, yellow for Belgian, and purple for German. (If such standardization seems odd, just think how we have ended up with red states and blue states.)
I still have not figured out whether SICILIAN CAROUSEL by Lawrence Durrell (ISBN 978-0-14-00-4687-8) is fiction, or non-fiction, or some strange combination of the two. The Coen Brothers began their film FARGO by saying, "This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1967." But in fact, the film was a complete fiction. Conversely, Durrell begins by saying, "Though all the characters in this book are imaginary..." The best I can guess is that Durrell did in fact take the trip described in SICILIAN CAROUSEL and all the descriptions of places are true to life, but the characters and events are all fictitious.
People have criticized Durrell for concentrating on the Greek history of Sicily and almost completely ignoring its history since then (i.e., the Romans, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Germans, the Spanish, and the Italians, and probably a few I've missed). But when traveling one must always pick and choose what to concentrate on. In Fact, Durrell has one of his characters describe the notes in his tour guide with, "There are four terms, four values for the monuments. Together they form the word Moss. M is for must, O is for ought really, SH is for should really, and SK is for skip." But even more incisive is his observation, "This is the whole trouble with guides and guide books--the difficulty of disentangling what is historically important from what is artistically essential." The ruins of an old fort may be historically important, while the forest surrounding it more artistically essential.
One thing visitors will miss are the bees in Agamemnon's tomb. Apparently a few generations before Durrell's trip, wild bees had taken up residence in what is called "Agamemnon's tomb" in Mycenae, and the tomb was full of their humming, but then what Durrell describes as "an unlucky spraying by insecticide" had killed them all and the tomb returned to silence. One might debate which is the more desirable state.
Durrell talks about visiting museums, and how some of their contents are perhaps not displayed to their best advantage: "We were going to visit the Archaeological Museum in order to the cultural treasures which the wretched archaeologists had carefully removed from Selinunte. It was distasteful to be forced to replace them mentally in order to admire them--I was reminded of my youth when I used to traipse around the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, trying in a dispirited fashion to replace them upon the Acropolis which I had not as yet seen, with the help of photographs. It did not work, context is everything; besides, these were decorative additions to structure not independent art works."
I know people pooh-pooh synchronicity, but how else to explain why I saw *two* completely independent references to "chthonic deities" in one day, one in Durrell and one in the film INFERNO. And this only about a week after I saw *two* completely independent references to Twain's article on the German language in a single day. [-ecl] [I think people underrate the power of coincidence. There are so many potential amazing coincidences hanging around that it would be surprising some of them did not turn out to be true. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: When any organizational entity expands beyond 21 members, the real power will be in some smaller body. -- C. Northcote ParkinsonTweet
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