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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/26/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 30, Whole Number 1999
Table of Contents
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018):
From the New York Times:
Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular science fiction author known for "The Left Hand of Darkness," has died. She was 88.
Ursula K. Le Guin, also known for the Earthsea series, embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self- sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles.
[The scheduling of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS for our discussion group, noted below, happened several months ago. -ecl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
February 8: SILENT RUNNING (1972) & "The Word For World Is Forest" by Ursula K. Le Guin, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM (postponed from January) http://fbxlib.ru/book/483625/read/ March 8: JOHN CARTER (2012) & A PRINCESS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM https://www.gutenberg.org/files/62/62-h/62-h.htm (however, this is apparently a bad OCR) March 22: THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 24: TIME TRADERS by Andre Norton, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (available in Project Gutenberg) July 26: FIRE WATCH by Connie Willis, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 27: TBD (probably a Hugo-nominated novella), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Excerpt from the Film LUCKY LOGAN:
I found this very funny. A prison has just put down a riot and now the warden is making peace negotiations. The scene was funny enough that someone--not me--put it on YouTube:
Science Fiction for Beginners (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We think of science fiction as being a global genre. Don't people all over the world read science fiction, and haven't they for a long, long time? Apparently not. It is just now getting to the Himalayas. The attached article was written for a Himalayan newspaper and it is for potential science fiction readers and viewers to tell them what the genre is all about.
Presumably they are getting some fantasy also. I wonder what a Himalayan farmer would make of Hilton's LOST HORIZON. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for February (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Once again I am recommending films coming up on Turner Classic Movies. These are films that hopefully readers might not have otherwise known were worth catching. (And I love it when someone writes to say they second my recommendation.) TCM is showing seven films that Elia Kazan directed for 20th Century Fox. Kazan was one of the greatest and yet most controversial directors of Golden Age Hollywood. He had an ability to get really profound performances from his actors including James Dean (EAST OF EDEN) and Marlon Brando (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, ON THE WATERFRONT, and VIVA ZAPATA!). He tells the story of his own very roundabout and epic journey from Turkey to America in, what else, AMERICA, AMERICA. Kazan is still controversial for his reluctant cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee when he had to choose between throwing away his entire career and being blacklisted or naming names of communists he knew. Below are the films TCM will be showing. The best of the films are AMERICA, AMERICA; EAST OF EDEN; and ON THE WATERFRONT.
AMERICA, AMERICA (1963)
[Saturday, February 10, 5:00 PM]
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)
[Thursday, February 16, 8:00 PM]
EAST OF EDEN (1955)
[Saturday, February 17, 5:45 PM]
TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, A (1945)
[Sunday, February 18, 1:00 PM]
VIVA ZAPATA! (1952)
[Tuesday, February 20, 8:00 PM]
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, A (1951)
[Friday, February 23, 1:15 PM]
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
[Tuesday, February 27, 8:00 PM]
In THERE WILL BE BLOOD Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day- Lewis) is a silver prospector in 1898 who repeatedly nearly kills himself from his own poor planning and taking of risks. He somehow manages to survive his own incompetence, and in the process discovers oil in the shaft he was digging for silver. Thirteen years later he has dubbed himself an oil man and is building a powerful oil syndicate in which he is to make all the decisions and his investors are to remain silent. It is easy to see where this film might be going. He could be becoming a totally soulless exploiter of others, stealing their land to enrich himself. Considering that the story is coming from social critic Upton Sinclair that might be what could be expected, but that expectation is neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. Rapacious as he is, he still is some modicum of the audience sympathy. [Sunday, February 25, 12:15 AM]
If you want ionic moments in cinema in February there is Marlon Brando confronting his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger) in ON THE WATERFRONT. We have Brando as Stanley Kowalski yelling "STELLA-!" and Daniel-Day Lewis's line "I ... drink ... your ... milkshake!"
What is the best film of the month? I have to go with ON THE WATERFRONT. [-mrl]
HOSTILES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an American Western painted in dark tones. An Indian-hating cavalry officer is assigned to accompany a Cheyenne chief back to his homeland several days away. Along the way they will start with distrust and slowly come to see each other in a more a greeable light. The film features some very nice scenery in New Mexico and Montana. HOSTILES is a little overly long but the characterizations are unrushed. The plot is not new and it unwinds slowly. The direction is more subtle than this material would have gotten back in the 1950s. Studi and Bale both give very strong performances. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1892 life on the prairie attitudes were black and white. Most whites thought that Indians were a scourge on the land that needed to be exterminated. They thought that whites deserved the ownership of the land once it had been stripped of the Indians. That goes for cavalryman Captain Joseph Blocker's attitude. It was also the recently adopted attitude of Rosalie Quaid (played by Rosamund Pike) after she saw a band of Indians kill her husband and three children and then burn her homestead.
Joe is given a mission that he cannot refuse, as much as he wants to. Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk (played by the always impressive Wes Studi) is dying painfully and Joe is given orders to guard him and to bring him from New Mexico back to the Chief's homeland in Montana 1000 miles and several days journey away. Joe would rather shoot Yellowhawk himself, but he is a good enough cavalryman to obey even unpleasant orders. Sharing his protection is Rosalie Quaid and a few others who join the group. The small group knows they will be easy prey for the bloodthirsty Comanche raiders they will likely meet along the way.
I suppose this is in some ways a fairly stereotypic plot. A group of people, who may or may not like each other, have to travel together through lands of hostile Indians. Along the way they learn more about each other. They face angers and hate each other, but they have to depend on each other. Along the way the Indians learn that whites are not all alike and (with more emphasis) the whites learn that the Indians are not all alike. Wes Studi's Yellowhawk maintains a passive face in spite of his character's cancer and in spite of Joe's additional discomfort. Among those in the traveling group the chief has most of the wisdom and most of the intelligence.
Director Scott Cooper tells his story at an unhurried pace. In the 1950s or 1960s this plot or one like it might have made a fast- paced 95-minute movie. With more emphasis on characterization, HOSTILES runs for about 135 minutes. In some sequences the pacing shows the character's introspection, but then sometimes a slow scene is just slow scene. In the end there are two messages. One is a message of hope and one a message of despair. Attitudes can be changed, but there are many more attitudes out there that need changing. I rate HOSTILES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5478478/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hostiles
LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CITY by Joseph and Frances Gies (book review by Gregory Frederick):
The time is 1250 and the city of Troyes in France is the subject of this account of medieval city life. Though influences from other Western European areas are touched on the book mostly covers this city. The topics covered include: weddings, funerals, architecture, small businesses, big businesses, doctors, the church, schools, books, theater, government, and the city fairs. The printing press did not exist at this time but there was a growing industry in creating and selling hand copied books. The pages where made of parchment (skins of animals) and the covers for most books were wood covered with leather. Since it took months to create a book this way even the less ornate books were expensive. Students would rent books due to the high cost of purchasing them.
Medical science in the 13th century is questionable compared to later advances but it was an advance over the previous Middle Ages period. Medical education is influenced by astrology and numerology, which provided complicated guides to treating an illness. Medical textbooks are few and precious. The medical treatment of wounds and injuries, which occur often, are where the doctors tend to have the best success. Some rudimentary understanding of infections was being addressed also. The doctor would apply layers of sterile egg white to cuts and piercings. Italian doctors even recommenced applying wine to a cut instead of salves. Wine has alcohol that will kill germs.
In the building of cathedrals medieval architecture soars above the Romans. The flying buttress and Gothic arch allows for very high ceilings and tall walls where the large rich stained glass windows can shine. This well-written and small book is a good resource for historical knowledge of this time. [-gf]
Philip K. Dick Television Series (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Dale's comments on television science fiction in various issues of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Today Robby Soave, [in] Reason.com ( https://tinyurl.com/void-electric-dreams), gave notice of an SF series "based on the work of sci fi author Philip K. Dick" the episodes for which:
"(take on separate) and distinct sci fi premise(s): a post- apocalyptic society, the breeding of artificial humans, an alien invasion, (and) virtual reality"
Soave offers a ranked list:
"from best to worst: "The Commuter," "Safe and Sound," "Autofac," "Kill All Others," "Human Is," "The Father Thing," "Real Life," "Impossible Planet," "The Hood Maker," "Crazy Diamond"
I'm temped to try the "worst" one, first. [-js]
TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING (letters of comment by John Jetzt, Fred Lerner, and John Purcell):
In response to Gwendolyn Karpierz's review of TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING in the 01/19/18 issue of the MT VOID, John Jetzt writes:
I assure you that you are not alone in your feelings about TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING. This is one book upon which Duelist Fish Joe and I disagree significantly. I even had trouble wading through the audiobook, which I find normally helps mitigate less than appealing writing styles. You put rather eloquently into words what I was feeling about the book. Particularly the condescension piece. Spot on. The notion that book 2 and/or 3 might show up on the Hugo Finalist list has me terribly concerned for my Hugo reading this year. [-jj]
Fred Lerner writes:
Please reassure Gwendolyn Karpierz that she (and her father) aren't the only ones who found TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING unnecessarily confusing. I did manage to finish the novel, but I don't expect to read the sequel anytime soon. [-fl]
John Purcell writes:
TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING was one of last year's Hugo Award finalists for Best Novel. I tried reading it and gave up about a third of the way through. Religion-based science fiction and fantasy can be very effective, but it's danged hard to do right. Perhaps the best examples I have ever read are DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH by Robert Silverberg and, of course, A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller. Both are considered classics and recommended reading for college sf classes. I just thought Ada Palmer was way too heavy- handed with her writing, and the grammar got to be too much. People don't talk in extended, grammatically correct paragraphs, let alone single sentences. Puhleeze... I didn't care for TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING at all. [-jp]
Navajo Code Talkers (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's review of THE FIRST WORLD WAR in the 01/19/18 issue of the MT VOID (and its comments on encoding radio transmissions), Fred Lerner writes:
Most of us know about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, but their predecessors in World War I are much less famous. I once read about an Oklahoma National Guard signals officer tasked with dealing with German interception of his regiment's frontline telephone communications. Overhearing some of his troops conversing in their native Choctaw, he recruited them to transmit and receive voice messages over the wire. As there were no Choctaw-speaking Germans on the front lines, this provided a secure system of communications (so long as the Germans didn't cut the lines).
Presumably some institutional memory of this survived within the U.S. military for long enough to inspire the Code Talkers program. I wonder if the additional refinement of using artificial Navajo slang terms rather than unadulterated Navajo speech was a precaution against possible institutional memory of the Choctaw gambit that the Germans might have passed along to their Japanese allies.
Because the Code Talkers program was maintained as a military secret until several decades after the end of World War II, I wondered how Robert Heinlein might have heard about it and used a variant on it in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Perhaps he had contacts in the military who might have leaked information to him--or perhaps he extrapolated from what he had heard about the Choctaw communicators in the First World War. Oklahoma isn't very far from western Missouri. [-fl]
The exhibit on code-talking in the National Cryptologic Museum had its history starting with World War I. (Of course, in 2013 when we went the Museum was very difficult to find--appropriately enough, I suppose. This may have changed.) [-ecl]
Writing from 2312 (letters of comment by George Phillies, Jim Susky, and John Purcell):
In response to the various letters of comment on writing from 2312 in the 01/19/18 issue of the MT VOID, George Phillies writes:
Interesting. There is one athletic record that is known quantitatively from 2000 years ago. There were three distance running events, and one man won all three of them a considerable number of times. Until very recently, that record--most first place finishes over a career--stood. The record very recently fell to a male swimmer. It would not be surprising if that record again falls, to the current US champion female swimmer. [-gp]
Jim Susky wrote:
In the 01/19/18 MT VOID, one of the correspondents threw down a gauntlet (of sorts) when he wrote:
"accidental time travelers always just happened to have memorized tremendous amounts of sports trivia"
The implication of this is rote memorization--which as a decent trivia gamer (though not Jeopardy level) I find to be largely unnecessary.
When BACK TO THE FUTURE came out, I was inspired to write down historical events (including sports champions) on the theory that if I were cast into Marty McFly's circumstance (in 1955) I'd make my way to Las Vegas and bet on "sure things". This would include Presidential tickets.
(Did Vegas take those kinds of bets? Or would one have to go to London for that?)
Before I stopped with that particular fantasy, I also wrote down the name of future Big Companies for those other big casinos on Wall Street.
Finally, although he has passed thus not available to confirm or deny it, I suspect Ken Grimwood's REPLAY may have been partly inspired by BACK TO THE FUTURE. In that novel his alter ego is transported to Grimwood's alma mater (Tulane) just in time to make a long-odds bet on the Kentucky Derby. [-js]
And John Purcell wrote:
I really enjoyed the give-and-take in the "Writing from 2312" letter excerpts. Well done! [-jp]
Sherlock Holmes and Fonts (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 01/19/18 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
A couple things of note in your latest publication. First off, I will have to watch those two Russian versions of Sherlock Holmes: that was my foreign language of study (three years worth) for my undergraduate degree, so this would be good practice to watch these first without captions to see how much I can still understand, then turn captioning on to see how well I did. As for another Sherlock Holmes television series, I have a couple DVD's of the Ronald Howard version (1954-1956) in my possession. Howard does a passable job, too, and F. Marion Crawford's take on John Watson is decent, although both Watson and Chief Lestrade are both played for laughs as competent but slightly bumbling sidekicks, but I'm sure you have heard of that series.
Handwritten fonts are good for effect and usually only readable in larger sizes. Sometimes I use them on documents when I feel the need to emphasize particular content, or make it look like I have actually signed them. You make some excellent observations on how to spot forgeries and computer generated handwriting fonts. Thank you for sharing these. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently watched AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: INTO THE AMAZON, and then read the applicable sections of COLONEL ROOSEVELT by Edmund Morris (ISBN 978-0-375-75707-5) and INTO THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS by Theodore Roosevelt (ISBN 978-1-492-16775-4). I cannot find what the sources for the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE were, but it would not surprise me to find out it was Morris's book--the show covers many of the same incidents that the book does. On the other hand, Roosevelt's own book has more information about the flora, fauna, and indigenous people (though the latter are seen through Roosevelt's somewhat prejudiced eyes), and less about the organization of the expedition. In particular, both Morris and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE detail how ill-suited Father Zahm was for an exploratory journey such as was being undertaken, culminating in his insistence at the Falls of Utiarity that from here the Indians should carry him in a sedan chair, and what's more, that they *enjoyed* carrying him in a sedan chair. At this point, Colonel Rondon (the official leader) basically kicked him off the expedition and sent him back to Tapirapoan. Roosevelt merely writes, at the end of their stay at the falls, "From here Father Zahm returned to Tapirapoan, accompanied by Sigg [his personal attendant]."
Similarly, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and Morris agree that the death of Simplicio was due to Kermit Roosevelt's failing to follow Rondon's instructions and trying to run a set of rapids instead of portaging them, while (Theodore) Roosevelt describes it somewhat differently, making it seem as though Kermit were just trying to investigate the opposite side of the river for portaging when the current took them.
Most notably, Roosevelt says little of his own injuries and illness, which led him at one point to insist they should leave him behind, and that he had with him a fatal dose of morphine to end his suffering. This seems to be what he refers to with, "I had by my own clumsiness bruised my leg against a bowlder [sic]; and the resulting inflammation was somewhat bothersome. I now had a sharp attack of fever, but thanks to the excellent care of the doctor, was over it in about forty-eight hours..." He does later refer to being very weak and lying in the canoe most of the day, but it is very much down-played.
We also discover that Roosevelt lacked the ability to foresee the results of technology. For example, in discussing weaponry, he says, "A cool man with a rifle, if he has mastered his weapon, need fear no foe." He wrote this in January 1914, less than a year before World War I would prove this disastrously wrong.
He also could speak movingly about the need to save the Grand Canyon and other scenic wonders for our descendents, and then get to South America and write constantly about how the land was just waiting for settlers to come in and make good use of it. (Apparently whatever the indigenous people were doing with it did not count.) His rationale was that the "settled" world was getting too crowded seemed to imply that 1) these settlers would be white, and 2) if you have too many children for your house, you can just grab someone else's house if you think they are under-utilizing it.
And some of the things the reader discovers are just unexpected. When Roosevelt finds out that Colonel Rondon named a river "The Twelfth of October" because that was the day Columbus discovered America, he says, "I had never before known what day it was!" (Columbus Day became a state holiday in Colorado in 1905, but did not become a Federal holiday until 1934.) For people for whom Columbus Day has always been a holiday, this is just surprising.
I recommend the television show and both books, as well as Roosevelt's other writings. In any list of which Presidents was the best writer, Roosevelt is always in the top five, along with Jefferson, Madison, and Grant. But the other Presidents all had a fairly limited written output, while Roosevelt wrote 47 books, on history, biography, travel, nature, politics, and general philosophy. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I don't have to look up my family tree, because I know that I'm the sap. --Fred AllenTweet
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