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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/17/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 20, Whole Number 1989
Table of Contents
Trip Report for Our Road Trip to the Southwest:
It is available at:
The New WONDER WOMAN (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have to say that one of the films that I was most looking forward to this year was WONDER WOMAN. Everybody who had seen it applauded it, raved about it, or something in between. It is not that I expected to really like it. I wanted to reconsider the character after seeing it many years later. It had two strikes going against it from my point of view. First, it was a comic book film and while when some of the early comic book films I did enjoy, I think we have gotten to many of them and I am getting somewhat tired of them. They are dominating the box office and they do not vary very much from one to another.
My other complaint is that while I was at one time a fan of DC comics, I have never particularly cared for their Wonder Woman character. It seems to me that most of the DC superheroes fit into my universe. Superman is an alien who has special powers. I can accept that. Batman is just a mortal man working out his vengeance issues on criminals. I can believe in that. The Flash has super powers that come out of biochemistry. All this fits into a rational universe. But Wonder Woman is an Amazon and she gets her power from mythical gods. So to believe in her one has to believe in ancient gods and in magic. That is a pretty big adjunct to my rational universe. And magic is a part of the character. She has a magical lasso that among is other powers it makes people tell the truth. She has an airplane that makes her invisible when she travels. These are not especially clever ideas for special features for her character.
One of the things people seemed to claim about the new WONDER WOMAN film is that it is a strike against sexism. This was a superhero film about a female superhero. And yet males seemed to enjoy the film. As far as that goes that is true. But the Wonder Woman character has sexism built in. You cannot portray the Wonder Woman without the Wonder Woman suit. They tried doing that on commercial television in 1974 with Cathy Lee Crosby in the role of Wonder Woman and it did not work. A 1975 to 1979 weekly series used the classic costume and that worked better for a bodacious Lynda Carter. But what is the Wonder Woman costume? It is an armored swimsuit. That costume design was done when the character first appeared. It was a sexy sexist image intended to appeal to the male audience.
The producer of each version certainly avoided the part of the myth that said that Amazons cut off their right breasts to be better archers. The comic artists and the TV show producers and the film producers have a strong economic interest in keeping that breast just where it belonged. Now they would let her shave her underarms, but the breast would stay just where the audience would be looking for it.
In the film, Wonder Woman's semi-clad figure bouncing though the mud of World War I trench warfare no man's land makes for a true surreal image.
I cannot lie to myself. In none of the versions of the character does Wonder Woman work for me. To claim that the new film is feminist only shows how far we still have to go. [-mrl]
THOR: RAGNAROK (film review by Dale Skran):
I've come to feel that the THOR movies were not the high point of the Marvel universe. Not bad, but not on the same level as movies like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR or DR. STRANGE or even ANT MAN. The love interest had bad chemistry, and the action sequences were often nonsensical. In THOR: DARK WORLD a potentially great action sequence with Thor and his opponent sliding through dimensions was squandered by poor direction and silly comic relief. We saw a bit too much of Dr. Jane Foster and her comic opera assistants.
With this to go on, I wasn't expecting much from RAGNAROK, and when I heard that a black actress was playing Valkyrie, this seemed like another ham-handed effort to add "diversity" where it doesn't fit. However, after the seeing RAGNAROK I found this change to be better motivated than making Heimdall black in the earlier movies, which as far as I can tell was just dropped to add a black face. This is not in any way a criticism of Idris Elba, who is a fine actor and does honor to the character. I have seen this decision defended not on the grounds that Vikings or Norse Gods were black, but that there is a Hollywood tradition of casting people of color in Viking movies. This kind of thing, unlikely as it may seem, can always be rationalized as a singular case of a traveler who decided to stay in the north lands. I just wish that such a rationalization were provided for Heimdall since I like to see movies that are internally consistent.
RAGNAROK is by far and away the best of the THOR movies. It is breaking box office records right and left--with only THREE DAYS in release it has crossed the global $427M mark, with $121M in the US alone. These are immense numbers for a production budget of $180M. So what does RAGNAROK do that the other THOR movies missed?
First, this is real sense of wonder stuff. The art direction is just plain stunning. You will see things you have never seen before. The director has a strong sense for how to set up an epic tale, and this is truly epic. Second, you will get ROCKUP-SOCKUM superhero action. Thor vs. Hulk. Hulk vs Fenris Wolf. Thor vs Sutar. Thor/Loki vs Hela. Thor/Valkyrie vs Hela. Hela vs the Warriors Three. An enormous set-piece battle on the Bifrost Bridge. Hela vs Sutar. Thor/Valkyrie jumping from aircraft to aircraft, destroying each in turn in a battle that reminds you what Asgardians are capable of. You will be shown why Thor is one of the most powerful Marvel heroes. Third, the silly comic relief characters of the earlier movies have been replaced by some comic relief aliens and Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster which are a lot easier to take and occupy less screen time. Fourth, this is a really funny movie with lots of jokes that operate on a wide variety of levels. It is accessible to kids of all ages without the Shrek-like nastiness of the most recent GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie. Fifth, this is a big screen space opera. Space battles. Bizarre planets. Battles in an alien arena. Weird aliens. Most of the movie takes place off-Earth.
This is just the start. The acting is very strong. The scenes with Mark Ruffalo are among the best he has done as the Hulk. Thor is a different person, bereft of his hammer, enslaved and beaten down, and using Earth slang. Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) is the least of the actors only by comparison to a really strong cast. There is a wonderful play within the play with Matt Damon as Loki. Tom Hiddleston defines Loki, and Cate Blanchet is fearsome as the ruthless and powerful Hela, Thor's older sister. Karl Urban does a turn as Skurge the Executioner, a major Thor villain. There is about five minutes of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) talking to Thor which shows why Dr. Strange is another of the most powerful Marvel heroes, and is a lot of fun as well.
RAGNAROK is a big movie, and a fitting capstone to the Thor trilogy. It lives up to its name, and moves the story of Thor to a new level. It is also a serious movie, with a highly motivated extremely dangerous villain, and real sacrifices to defeat that villain. The back story of "Scrapper 142"--the last Valkyrie--is deftly sketched in. In an earlier age, Odin sent the Valkyries to fight Hela, and she killed them all but one. It is worth remembering that there always were a lot of Valkyries in the comics, and there is nothing that says one could not have been black. Certainly in the comics there were non-Caucasian Valkyries. This sets up the "hero's journey" as Valkyrie finds the courage to join Thor and once again confront Hela, the thing she fears the most.
What's wrong with RAGNAROK? Mileage may vary on the jokes, but most will find something to like. Some scenes appear to be borrowed from Star Wars. Valkyrie gets drunk a bit too often for my taste, and there is too much "drunk humor" with this character. I get it--part of the Marvel fantasy as it relates to Thor is that he is, due to his godly nature, able to drink and drink with no lasting harm, and this applies to Valkyrie as well. I just hope viewers realize that this is just as much a fantasy as Wolverine's claws.
I went back and looked at my reviews of the earlier Thor movies, and I find that I rated them a low +2 and a high +2, but they seem diminished in retrospect compared to RAGNAROK. If I'm to be at all consistent, I have to rate RAGNAROK a +3. The PG-13 rating is well applied. There is a lot of super-hero fighting, and some Star Wars type battles. Characters from the earlier Thor movies die. As I said earlier, there is a bit too much drinking by Valkyrie, and I would make it clear to teenagers that this is just fantasy--if you drink like she does you'll end up dead, pretty much in the same fashion as if you jump out of a spaceship like she does you'll end up dead. [-dls]
UNDENIABLE (EVOLUTION AND THE SCIENCE OF CREATION) by Bill Nye (book review by Greg Frederick):
This science book is written by Bill Nye, a well known TV personality and spokesperson for science. The author relates how many scientists now realize there are actually four domains of life. The four domains are Bacteria, Archaea (microbes that are very different from bacteria and all the other forms of life), Eukarya (animals and plants), and Viruses. The Eukarya domain contains all creatures with a nucleus and cell organelles with a membrane which includes humans. We and all animals have more in common with plants than with any of the other forms of life on Earth. The study of evolution helps us to understand all life on Earth including ourselves. This knowledge is being applied to better medical treatments, for example.
Every person is a walking, talking evolving ecosystem because we harbor an incredible amount of microorganisms inside of us. The microorganisms inside each of us out numbers our own body cells by 10 to 1. And they evolve in us. A person is not born with all of these microbes but as we interact with our parents for example the microbes are spread thru contact. Most of the food we eat is broken down by these microbes so we can digest the contents.
The study of genes and using that data to compare the different species has proven to be a great way to see the path of evolution and how one species is related to another along the tree of life. Humans and Chimpanzees share 98.8 % of the same genes. Gorillas share 97% of the same genes as we humans have. At one time there were creatures that had 99.5% of the same genes as us. Less than 4 million years ago there were around a dozen hominid species like Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals who had 99.5% of our genes and if Cro- Magnons or Neanderthals were dressed in modern clothing and were well groomed most people would not realize that they were not homo sapiens like us.
This book also shows how the study of the anatomy of different species also has allowed scientists to learn more about the tree of life. If you would like an entertaining and educational look at evolution this is a good book for that. [-gf]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our book discussion group read THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman (ISBN 978-0-312-53663-3) as part of our sequence of books about time. But what strikes me the most now--and I am not the only one- -is the attitudes toward homosexuality, sex in general, and gender roles. In short, they are fairly appalling.
Let's start with sexuality and gender roles in general. In Haldeman's future (starting in 1997, written in 1974), women are drafted and serve in combat on an equal basis as men. Well, sort of. Apparently they have additional requirements, revealed casually in the description of the arrival of Mandella's company on Stargate, where the dining hall was set up for an "orgy," then "they ... unleashed Stargate's eighteen sex-starved men on our women, compliant and promiscuous as required by military custom (and law)." So apparently in addition to all the responsibilities of male soldiers, female soldiers must also be basically sex slaves.
Now, I suppose that the same rules might apply to male soldiers. But Haldeman certainly does not indicate this in any fashion, and indeed, our male narrator seems to feel free at least initially to decline the advances of a female comrade. He seems to acquiesce eventually more for reasons of group morale than by "military custom (and law)." (And his company evidently also sits around watching and commenting on the acts going on!)
I think one might surmise from this that Haldeman was working on the assumption that men had an almost insatiable sex drive, while women (with a few exceptions) had none whatsoever. But even if this were true, his solution is totally unacceptable. One might conceivably argue that when sex slaves were provided to armies in the past, there was at least the pretense that they were inferior and that was their only purpose. In THE FOREVER WAR, these are soldiers fighting alongside their male comrades, but when the fighting is over, these men are perfectly willing to turn their female comrades over to the men at the next base or wherever as sex slaves.
One is astonished that more of these men were not fragged by the women at their next opportunity.
As for the homosexuality, I am inclined to cut Haldeman some slack, since a lot of what people have objected to is really the first person narrator's attitude rather than the creation of a unacceptable, but apparently accepted, situation by the author. The narrator's attitude is more representative of 1974 (when the novel was written) than of 1997 (when the action in the novel starts), but this is a standard problem with social attitudes in science fiction novels. However, one can fault the author somewhat for apparently assuming that no one in the original army was homosexual (but possibly closeted), and more importantly, for having a character in the future who is a cyborg from the waist down who claims that makes him neither heterosexual nor homosexual. That is not how sexual orientation works.
The Suck Fairy was first described by "camwyn" on Livejournal in 2003 and popularized by Jo Walton. It comes to a work that one has loved, removes everything good, and replaces it with Suck.
Does THE FOREVER WAR suck? That may be a bit strong (although I grant for some the treatment of women will make them say yes), but it certainly diminishes its stature. If Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS can remain a classic with all its flaws, then THE FOREVER WAR probably will also.
(As an aside, I was getting caught up on my reading, but then we found a Friends of the Library booksale during our October road trip, and then went to two bookstores and another Friends of the Library booksale on Philcon weekend, as well as Philcon. The result was another twenty books added to the pile, but I can definitely recommend the Lawrence, KS, Friends of the Library book sale, as well as Second Time Books in Mount Laurel, NJ.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Imagination is more important than knowledge. --Albert EinsteinTweet
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