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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 05/24/19 -- Vol. 37, No. 47, Whole Number 2068
Table of Contents
Free Satellite Imagery E-Book from NASA:
[posted to a mailing list I am on]
"For anyone looking for a break from gloomy weather and divisive politics you might be interested in a digital "coffee table book" of satellite imagery put out by NASA:
It's a big PDF, but the pictures are interesting and the text basically just captions that provide a little explanation of what you are looking at. The earthobservatory.nasa.gov site is a regular feature that often displays satellite imagery relevant to current events (e.g. hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, etc." [-ecl]
Crackpots and Crabwalks (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When you were young did you ever do a crabwalk? You know what a crabwalk is, don't you? You lie on the floor with your front up and your back down and you push yourself up with your hands and feet and walk around. Your elbows and knees stick up; Linda Blair did it as Regan in THE EXORCIST. You are walking around looking a lot like a crab. It is kind of a silly way to walk around but you can move around that way and it really does look like you are walking like a crab. Actually a lot of invertebrates move around with prominent knees up like that.
But that may not be just a coincidence. In fact, there is apparently a lot in an invertebrate's body that looks a lot like it is a vertebrate doing a crabwalk. The heart of vertebrate is in the front and the nerve column is toward the back; in an invertebrate the reverse is true. It is very much like we evolved from a common ancestor, but some of our cousins walked with one side down, some with the other. As they adapted and so did their descendents until you had two different evolutionary paths. The conjecture was that there was Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire propounded something of an inversion that separated us from arthropods in 1830 Paris. An opposition to the theory was led by Georges Cuvier. He didn't include the bit about evolutionary paths because this hypothesis preceded Darwin's.
The theory has sort of hung around the halls of biology for the intervening time as a crackpot (or is it a crab pot) theory that some people stubbornly held to. The vast majority of these long- standing crackpot theories shall always be crackpot theories. The ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky do not bear close scrutiny and yet are still championed by some. Then you get the odd crackpot theory like that the continents seem to fit together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. I remember back as a ten-year-olds my Cub Scout troop made globes by blowing up balloons and pasting on continents. And I did notice at the time that if I deflated my balloon South America nestled comfortably into Africa. And ten-year-old Mark said, "I bet the Earth is expanding and the hard outer crust broke up under the expansion pressure." Wrong guess but close; I was looking in the right direction. It was only about seven years later that it became accepted that the pieces really did fit together and rolling convection currents and not expansion had broken up the outer crust. But when I was a kid, the idea that the continents fit together was nutty stuff. Just like this inversion.
Anyway, this story about the inversion theory still refuses to die is just nutty enough that it might be true. I guess there might have been a common ancestor that lived perfectly comfortably chest- side-up or chest-side-down. At some point groups split up and the chest-side-ups separated from the chest-side-owns. It is interesting to think that a little flip could have changed the destiny of a species so drastically. [-mrl]
THE LAST MOVIE STAR (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In his day Vic Edwards was the Number One boxoffice action actor on the screen. It is now about 45 years later and age has taken its toll. Vic walks bent over and can hardly get about. When a little-known film society wants to award Vic its Lifetime Achievement Award and pay all expenses, Vic reluctantly agrees to go along. He very soon finds he had good reason to be reluctant. Vic is a sort of copy of the real Burt Reynolds, on whom he is closely based. Vic will rediscover his past, while making peace with the present. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Vic (played by Burt Reynolds) was once a major American movie star, the number one boxoffice draw for six years. But the film industry is an unforgiving one. Make a bad career choice and the phone stops ringing. Edwards is old, handicapped, and very mean- spirited. The Festival and the actor take an immediate dislike for each other. The event, "The International Nashville Film Festival", would need plenty of fixing just to make it as good as slap dash.
The pick-up at the airport is 45 minutes late and his driver is dressed in Goth leather shorts and spends the whole driving time on the telephone. This is Lil and she is arguing with her boyfriend, nearly cracking the car up in the process. This is Lil, played by Ariel Winter. The festival is mostly hidden away behind a bar and in one single screening room. The attendees are mostly in their teens and twenties. The event is run from behind a bar. Vic is less than happy to find out that Lil is to be his aide this weekend and his driver for the whole festival.
Vic feels disrespected not so much because the festival is falling apart under him, but because the kids running the festival seem totally clueless that anything at all is going wrong. Finally he has had enough and has his driver Lil drive him around the state, visiting places that figured in his own life. Vic is uncomfortable in front of people and he does not like that the once virile sex symbol is now bent over and in need of a cane to walk.
Again this is very parallel to the real Burt Reynolds' experience. As they travel Vic can learn from Lil about the modern world from which he had isolated himself. Lil can benefit from Vic's wisdom gathered over the years.
Because this film is at least in part a tribute to Reynolds' career, the film provides visual quotes of his better-known films. We will see the Reynolds character fishing with a crossbow as a young virile stud. And he is conversing with the very old Burt Reynolds.
This is a very sentimental film about a man who rarely showed the world a sentimental face. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5836316/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_last_movie_star_2018
FUNNY STORY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
SPOILER: Some plot points may be revealed or hinted at.
CAPSULE: A group of female friends is getting together in Big Sur for the weekend. One of them, Nic, asks her father Walter to drive her best friend Kim to the get-together. Walter and Kim totally fail to hit it off together. Walter is a little taken off guard by Kim's hostility, but he will learn more about the girls this weekend. Directed by: Michael J. Gallagher; written by: Michael J. Gallagher, Steven Greene. Rating: I rate it a +1 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
After the first act of FUNNY STORY there is not so much humor as drama, much of it frustrating. Most of the "funny" in the title is in the first act of the story. To tell the truth, Walter is a little shocked at what he sees of the women who are his daughter's friends, but he is bound and determined to show them that he will not be judgmental or in any way intolerant of the women's lifestyles. Still, the weekend is not going well.
Nevertheless, by the third act the women have decided that Walter is an irredeemable lothario. There is an irritating problem in the script, however. This group of friends are torn apart by a revelation about Walter. But Walter is being used as a scapegoat for someone worse.
Eventually all the women give in to hostility for Walter. They seem to ignore their own share of responsibility for what has happened. Nobody takes Walter's side to defend him. Walter himself for some reason is so accommodating that he does not seem to even defend himself.
To her credit, one of the girls realizes that Walter does not deserve the enmity he is getting. She comes to this conclusion and points it out at the very end of the film. It is maddening that nobody mentions it before the very end. It is the one obvious observation, but the fact that nobody was willing to admit it casts a very bad light on the whole group.
Writer/director Michael J. Gallagher wants to send a message to the viewer that the whole situation is really a comedy. The titles are done white on black in the same typeface that Woody Allen uses. This does have some laughs early but this is definitely not a Woody-Allen-style comedy.
Matthew Glave as Walter does seem to have an affable personality on the screen in a Robert Forster sort of style.
FUNNY STORY has a few minutes of humor, but it takes more than that to make a "funny story." I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7422552/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/funny_story
"Clash by Night", "The Silly Season", and the MT VOID (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Retro Hugo finalists in the 05/17/19 issue of the MT VOID, Gary Labowitz writes:
I always look through the MT VOID to find, and perhaps pick, something to read or see. I was somewhat startled to see the Retro Awards the reference to "Clash by Night." It is one of my old favorites. I also like the poem with its ending phrase, "Where ignorant armies clash by night."
My other rarely mentioned favorite from (generally) the same era was "The Silly Season," that I believe was by Jack Dawn. I'm not sure I remember that right, but that's what comes to mind. With all the nonsense going on at present (political and social) I am thinking we are due for an alien invasion any day now. Or maybe not.
Thank you for keeping me alert. I just wonder how you could find the time to read so many things and still get out a frequent zine. Are you a robot? (I need one of those boxes you can check to prove you are not! I don't see how those could work. Any robot worth its oil would easily see it and click the box. Some safeguard!) [-gl]
The first poem you mention is "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold. In 11th grade I had to memorize it. Give or take a word toward the end I can still recite it.
I know how I do what I do on the VOID. I don't know how Evelyn does all she does. [-mrl]
"The Silly Season" (1950) is by C. M. Kornbluth. Jack Dann was five years old at the time. [-ecl]
"Attitude" (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "Attitude" in the 05/17/19 issue of the MT VOID, Charles S. Harris writes:
[Evelyn writes,] "There's always one on each ballot--one finalist that is totally unavailable--and this year it is 'Attitude' by Hal Clement." [-ecl]
How about: https://archive.org/stream/essentialhalclem00halc? [-csh]
Yes, that works, though not ideally. You need an archive.org login (free). Then you need to "borrow" the book, and it's only available to one person at a time, so everyone will have to wait until I finish the story, which is a PDF with small print and poor contrast. Yes, I can enlarge it, but then each page is too large for the screen so I have to scroll around to read it. And there are fifty pages of this. Still, I will persevere. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A few weeks ago, I ragged on Jo Walton for her continuing negative comments on the Dramatic Presentation category in the Hugos. So I will say she nailed it for 1998 with, "So, they had GATTACA on the list and they gave it to CONTACT?" She also liked the winners for 1999 (THE TRUMAN SHOW) and 2000 (GALAXY QUEST). I will note that GALAXY QUEST was one of the rare times that a Hollywood film actually had live people present to accept the award. Director Dean Parisot and co-writer Robert Gordon were there and seemed genuinely thrilled, both at the awards ceremony and at the party afterwards.
This week I will cover the Retro Hugo Best Novelette category. (It may be a mistake to start with the longest items first; as the works grow shorter they start seeming--and being--less complex and thought-provoking.)
"Citadel of Lost Ships" by Leigh Brackett is one of those stories that was based on the planetary knowledge of the time, particularly of Venus, but now is woefully outdated. However, that aspect of it is not the main story, merely the background for the characters, so it doesn't intrude enough to cause problems. What is more problematic is the lack of subtlety in its essentially libertarian message dressed up in science fiction trappings.
"The Halfling" by Leigh Brackett is another story with outdated planetary science. But it is basically a horror story with science fiction trappings, and so the science is again not a major problem.
"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Lewis Padgett (C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) has a certain similarity to "The Little Black Bag" by Cyril Kornbluth--in both cases, technology from the future ends up in the present of the story, and problems ensue. This has more ideas to think about than the other stories, although ultimately it seems to be almost literally hand-waving.
"The Proud Robot" by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) is one of a series of stories by Padgett featuring Gallegher, an inventor who makes all his best inventions when he is drunk, and then cannot remember them when he sobers up. It's basically lightweight humor, except that the idea of being so drunk you cannot remember anything is not as funny now as it was back then. (People have pointed out that the "Topper" films have the same problem; the idea that Topper goes out driving when drunk and so kills himself doesn't seem amusing any more.) However, the problem Gallegher is working on-- people giving up on one form of entertainment for another was fairly prescient then (television's explosion into the consumer market was still several years off), and has parallels now to people giving up cinemas for watching on large screens at home, and cable for subscription streaming services. This wasn't enough for me, though.
"Symbiotica" by Eric Frank Russell is so full of unpleasant and annoying characters that I found it difficult to read. The first person narrator mentions that their doctor is a "negro", but this never makes any difference to the story, and later he talks about the inhabitants of the planet being "on the level of a Congo pygmy- -maybe lower." James Nicoll writes of this story, "I think this is the series where all space doctors are Negros [sic] be cause Negros are best at space doctoring; it's an attempt to be inclusive that ends up being a caste system." It's a pity, because the symbiosis idea is worth developing, and Russell blows it.
"Thieves' House" by Fritz Leiber, Jr., is a typical sword and sorcery tale, one of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray mouser stories, but very well-written.
Rankings: "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", "The Halfling", "Thieves' House", no award, "Citadel of Lost Ships", "Symbiotica", "The Proud Robot"
Next week, on to the short stories. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask? --Jim RohnTweet
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